nws earle original pier 1943PHOTO: Construction of the original pier at NWS Earle in 1943.

muriel j smith 120Naval Weapons Station Earle. When they hear that, the folks in the Bayshore think of “the pier,” that magnificent three miles of pier, wye, and trestle that every fisherman yearns to be on. The folks on the western side of the County think of 201 Route 34, Colts Neck, the entrance to the beautiful, wooden and very quiet neighbor that is also home to a number of other contractors as well as military serving aboard this very historic base.

But to everyone, NWS Earle is a force in war and peacetime, and has been ever since it was first built in 1943 to answer to the war that was supposed to end all wars.

nws earle admin bldg 1943PHOTO:  Administrative Building of in 1943

The truth is, it was really long before the start of WW II, both Army and Navy officers knew there should be a base to load and un load explosives somewhere in the port of New York area, in an area close to roads and rail. Strangely enough, it was the Army who first came up with the idea, and the first to suggest Port Monmouth and Spermaceti Cove as sites that should be considered for a permanent location.

The Navy also considered the issue, and decided that yes an ammo load and unload site in the New York area was essential to the nation’s security, and yes, the south side of Sandy Hook Bay would be the ideal spot. But the Navy also had strong feelings about disrupting so many homes in Port Monmouth to accomplish their goal and suggested instead a unique possibility instead.

nws earle memorial drivePHOTO:  Memorial Drive, Colts Neck.

After flying over the area and seeing all the “swamp and jungle” as they referred to the site in Colts Neck, 12 miles from the sea, the Navy thought that would be a more suitable location. A railroad could be built at the waterfront on a smaller piece of land in the Bayshore, disrupt fewer people, and thereby restrict the construction to a minimum of developed property. Thus was the start of a second naval base in Monmouth County; it was named for Ralph Earle, a graduate of the Naval Academy in 1896 and Chief of Ordnance during World War I.

It was first known as Naval Ammunition Depot Earle, with a clear mission to support all the operations conducted by the Department of Defense through the Navy. As an ammo site, the base is responsible for storing, repairing, developing and maintaining some of the most advanced weapons used by the US Navy troops, making it an essential base.

nws earle train pierPHOTO: Train Operations on the pier.

A brief summary of the early history of Earle has some fascinating descriptions and information. It was described as “largely oak forest and woodland swamp, glen paradise for deer and other game. Pheasant and fox, deer and rabbit dwelt here in a world of their own, with only the baying of an occasional hound or the tread of an occasional hunter to astound them into seeking cover.” The officer writing the summary in the 1940s went on to say that “even now, …we can smile to see a hen quail, like a plump little bandy-legged woman, waddling over the crusted snow to our charitable handout of bread crumbs, her little family aligned behind her.” Or, on summer nights “we may stop breathless, as a stag, head lifted at the sound of our voices, stands in majesty, silhouetted against the rigid moon atop a magazine.”

That was a description of the Colts Neck portion. For Leonardo, the writer continued. “skirting its shores had stood a cluster of gay little houses of prostitution, to which harried New York business ladies were wont to retire during the summer months in order to play their trade in a cooler, quieter atmosphere.”

Today, NAD Earle is now Naval Weapons Station Earle, and its mission is still the same. The vitality of the base is evident in the quality of leadership that is assigned to command the 11,027 acres spread over five municipalities…Middletown, Colts Neck, Howell, Wall Township and Tinton Falls, including the approximate 20 mile rail and road line between the waterside and administrative side of the base.

nws earle pierside ordnancePHOTO: Ordnance being loaded by forklift.

Two of the last three commanding officers are graduates of the Naval Academy; Capt. David “Fuzz” Harrison, Class of ’81, a diver and a wizard at ordnance management; the current commanding officer, Capt. Jay M. Steingold, class of ’92, and the first flight officer to take control. Inbetween was Capt. Richard C. Valentine, a ‘Mustang,” the kind of Sailor who enlisted, then worked his way up the ranks. The kind of commanding officer respected as “a Sailor’s Sailor.” For Capt. Valentine, who first served NWS Earle as Executive Officer..second in command… from 2006 to 2008, being a “Mustang Captain” puts him in the same class as Audie Murphy, WWII’s most decorated soldier, Admiral Boorda, a four star admiral at the time of his death and for whom a building on the Leonardo side of the base was named, and New Jersey’s own Marine General Al Gray, former commandant of the Marine Corps, among others. President McKinley could also be considered a Mustang, since he enlisted in the military and later became Commander in Chief as President.

At a recent meeting he hosted for community leaders, Capt. Steingold reiterated the importance of Earle, assuring community leaders that the base’s mission and the role it has even today in supplying our Navy and Marines with the vast majority of ammunition in the Middle East, will undoubtedly keep it from any future BRAC list. The commanding officer also noted that the government has proven that belief, considering the extraordinary amount of money it expended to restore the pier to its pre-Sandy conditions.

nws earle pierPHOTO: NWS Earle Pier

Like the commanding officers before him, Capt. Steingold also praised Monmouth County and its people, not only for their patriotism but also their friendliness to military personnel. And from the reaction and enthusiasm of those at the community meeting, it was obvious Capt. Steingold is recognized as a strong, gracious, wise, well-respected and very well liked commanding officer of one of Monmouth Count’s most vital attributes.