Played football with brother, Hal, at TC before long Air Force career

The face and voice of the National Transportation Safety Board in the aftermath of last week’s deadly commuter airliner crash near Buffalo, N.Y., has a Taft connection.

Steven R. Chealander, the lead investigator for the NTSB in the crash that claimed 50 lives, carried the football for Taft College and the Gipper.

He has been frequently seen on network newscasts and quoted in newspaper stories about the investigation.

The NTSB investigates civilian airplane crashes and major railroad, highway, marine and pipeline accidents.

Chealander was sworn in as an NTSB member Jan. 3, 2007 and then reappointed by President George W. Bush for a second one-year term.

A former U.S. Air Force and American Airlines pilot who was a member of the famed Thunderbirds demonstration squadron, Chealander attended Taft College in 1968-69 with his brother, Hal, a retired Kern County Sheriff’s commander and onetime candidate for county sheriff.

Hal was the quarterback and Steve a receiver who later, as a military aide to Ronald Reagan, carried the President’s “football” – the top security briefcase that contains the launch codes.

Steve Chealander, who retired from the Air Force in 1991 as a lieutenant colonel, was in Taft last October for his wife Becky’s 40th Taft High School reunion.
“I have fond memories of Taft and Taft College and playing for the Cougars,” he said then.

Someone with fond memories of the Chealander brothers is longtime Taft resident John Miller.

“They both lived with us for a while after they arrived in Taft,” Miller said.  “Then we rented them our apartment across the street.”

Miller said a visit to the Ronald Presidential Reagan Library reminded him again of his one-time houseguest and renter.

When Miller, who is a longtime private pilot and flew during World War II, took a stoll inside Air Force 1 there was a mannequin in the plane wearing a flight suite with the name Steve Chealander on it.

It was, in fact, Chealander’s uniform, the one he wore when he accompanied Reagan during flights aboard Air Force 1.

“I was a little surprised to see that,” Miller said.

Chealander, he said, has been a frequent escort for former First Lady Nancy Reagan.

“I think he still does a lot of that.  I know they keep in touch.”

Miller said he still talks regularly with his old friend Jack Dale, Steve Chealander’s father-in-law.

Dale, who lives in Tehachapi, was “a friendly competitor” of Miller’s.  They both operated independent markets in town.

“We still keep in touch,” he said.

And while doing that, Miller is able to keep up with what’s going on in Steve’s busy life.