By Britt Myers
As Memorial Day draws near, millions of Americans will be gassing up the boat, purchasing cookout essentials and spending time with family and friends. This week, the Weekly Papers are honored to feature one of the many heroes that have dedicated their lives to the liberties and blessings afforded to this great nation. We thank all of our veterans, along with those currently serving and especially the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we hold so dear.
Captain Steve “Odie” McAlearney, Commanding Officer at the Naval Air Station in Key West, was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and first visited the Keys in 1990 for initial aircraft carrier landing qualification in the cockpit of a T-2 Buckeye. At that time, McAlearney was a recent graduate of the U.S. Naval academy with a degree in mechanical engineering. Soon after, he would be designated as a Naval Aviator, unaware of how far his dedication and leadership skills would take him along one the most prestigious career paths.
To name a few of McAlearney’s achievements, after completion of Fleet Replacement Training he would report to the Sidewinders of VFA-86. From there he was deployed in support of Operations Deliberate Force over Bosnia-Heregovina and Operation Southern Watch over Iraq on board USS America. McAlearney would later make a second Mediterranean Sea and Arabian Gulf deployment in support of Operations Deny Flight and Southern Watch, participating in the initial strikes of Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan.
In December of 2002, McAlearney was assigned to the U.S. Joint Forces Command as Nuclear Operations Officer. In 2005 he reported to the Knighthawks as Executive Officer, assuming command of the squadron, while completing two deployments in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom while embarked in USS Enterprise.
In 2008, McAlearney transferred to the Navy Personnel Command serving as Head, Aviation Commander Assignment Branch and Head, Lieutenant Commander/Junior Officer Assignment Branch. He then reported to the U. S. Naval Academy as Executive Assistant to the Superintendent. After earning his Masters in National Resource Strategy, McAlearney served in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats.
So for a man who has logged over 3,600 flight hours, boasts more than 850 carrier landings, decorated with the Legion of Merit, Joint Meritorious Service Medal, two Meritorious Service Medals, Air Medal with Combat V, five Strike/Flight Air Medals, two Navy Commendation Medals and five Navy Achievement Medals…where do you begin a Q&A? With his favorite television show, of course:
Q: What is your favorite television show and book?
A: For television, Breaking Bad (bummer it’s over). And book, “The Death of Common Sense.”
Q: With a life as full as yours, what are you most proud of?
A: My marriage to Cathy and the births of our children, sons Josh and Shaun.
Q: What do you consider your career highlight?
A: Flying off from a combat deployment as squadron commanding officer—the last day of an aircraft carrier deployment, all the aircraft fly off of the ship and head back to home field. It was a great feeling realizing that the squadron had excelled in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that all of our people and aircraft were returning home safely.
Q: What is the greatest part of serving your nation?
A: Being part of something bigger than myself.
Q: You’ve flown almost every jet known to man, if you could fly only one, which would it be?
A: The FA-18 Hornet: It’s a dream to fly, you get to do both air combat and ground attack missions, and I’d feel comfortable flying it into combat anywhere in the world.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever been given?
A: Take care of your people and they will take care of you.
Q: What are some of the misconceptions the average citizen might have in regards to the men and women who serve our country?
A: The misconception that military service is a last resort for someone with few options. In fact, it is extremely competitive to both join and stay in the military. Today’s service members are the most educated and physically fit that we’ve ever had, and enlistment was far from an only option.
Q: What is the greatest compliment you can/have received from someone under your leadership or command?
A: That they feel I was instrumental in advancing their career, and they enjoyed their time in a unit that I commanded.
Q: What will you be doing on Memorial Day? What does this day mean to you?
A: I’m honored to speak at the Navy League Key West Council Memorial Day ceremony at the Maine Memorial in the Key West cemetery at 9 a.m., and at the Florida Keys Cemetery on Big Coppitt with the American Legion at 11 a.m. As someone who has had friends who have died both training and fighting in service to our country, I’m glad that we have a holiday to acknowledge their sacrifice.