Meridian Naval Air Station, Mississippi
Naval Air Station, Meridian Mississippi is approximately 15 miles northeast of the city of Meridian, in Lauderdale County, between State Highways 39 and 45. The town of Meridian, Mississippi dates back to the early 1800s and is a charming city with a rich history.
Meridian is a very military-friendly town, and the local community has rallied around NAS Meridian through several rounds of BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure), to prevent the base being moved or shut down.
Meridian has a diverse population of around 40,000, moderate climate, excellent medical facilities, and low cost of living (2008 cost of living index was 82.6, compared to the national average of 100). Mississippi's crime rate is below the national average, and Meridian has the lowest crime rate in the state. Meridian's location offers easy access to several large, metropolitan areas (including New Orleans, Memphis, Atlanta, Birmingham, Dallas, and the Gulf Coast).
The total population served is approximately 2,300. There are eight Major Commands, as well as the Naval Operational Support Center (NOSC), and Regional Counterdrug Training Academy (RCTA).
The main base of NAS Meridian occupies more than 8,000 acres of land, with an additional 4,000 acres at Joe Williams Field and the target facility SEARAY. The size of NAS Meridian may be compared to that of other major naval air stations such as NAS Pensacola, Fla., which has about 5,000 acres.
On July 16, 1957, the first shovel of earth was thrown, marking the beginning of Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Meridian, which was commissioned July 14, 1961.
Captain W.F. Krantz received the golden key to the air station, and senior Mississippi U.S. Senator John C. Stennis was the guest speaker for the ceremony that opened the $60 million base. At that time the operations area was named McCain Field in honor of the late Admiral John S. McCain of Teoc, Mississippi
Training Squadron Seven (VT-7) arrived at NAAS Meridian July 12, 1961, then split on December 15 to form its sister squadron, Training Squadron Nine (VT-9).
NAAS Meridian continued to grow, and by July 1968, the station became a full naval air station. The years brought an increase in building development and family housing units. In 1968, and again in 1969, 300 aircraft from Pensacola arrived to escape the fury and destruction of Hurricane Gladys and Hurricane Camille, respectively.
In August 1971, Training Air Wing One (TW-1) was commissioned and Training Squadron Nineteen (VT-19) was established. The Wing motto became "Readiness for Victory at Sea through Training." That October saw the arrival of the TA-4J, the new advanced jet trainer based on the A-4 "Skyhawk." In April 1973, President Richard M. Nixon, accompanied by Senator John C. Stennis and many other high-ranking military and civilian officials, attended the dedication of the new Naval Technical Training Center (NTTC), known locally as the Stennis Center. It was officially commissioned April 17, 1974.
Naval Air Station (NAS) Meridian was selected and upgraded to a Major Shore Command on October 1, 1982. In March 1984, NAS Meridian was one of 15 installations chosen for the Department of Defense Model Installation Program.
In September 1985, the enlisted galley was dedicated to the memory of Marine Lance Corporal Roy M. Wheat, a Mississippi native and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in Vietnam.
In 1986, Navy Meridian officially adopted two Lauderdale County schools, Northeast Elementary and Northeast High School, as part of the civilian and DoD Adopt-a-School Program. In 1993, the new Northeast Middle School also was adopted.
In 1987, outlying field "Bravo" was renamed after Captain Joe W. Williams, Jr., NAS Meridian's second commanding officer and the recipient of the Navy Cross.
The Regional Counterdrug Training Academy (RCTA) was established in 1992. Operated by the Mississippi National Guard, it provides "street-level" counterdrug training to civilian law enforcement officers primarily from the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
In July 1994, Training Squadron Twenty-Three (VT-23) moved from Kingsville, Texas, to NAS Meridian.
In October 1997, the newly renovated Combined Bachelor Quarters was dedicated and named in memory of Ensign Jesse L. Brown, a Hattiesburg, Mississippi, native, who was the first African American naval aviator and also the first African American naval officer to lose his life in combat.
1st Lt. Karen Fuller Tribbett received Wings of Gold on October 17, 1997, becoming the first female strike pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.
In October 1998, VT-19 was re-designated VT-9. The TA-4J "Skyhawk" was retired in 1999. In December of that year, VT-7 assumed the advanced training mission using the T-45C "Goshawk," the Navy's newest jet trainer. At that time, VT-23 was disestablished.
Following the closure of Naval Reserve Center Jackson, Naval Reserve Center Meridian opened July 15, 2000, and had its first drill weekend two weeks later, one month before its official dedication ceremony, August 26.
On August 18, 2000, Marine Aviation Training Support Group was re-designated Marine Aviation Training Support Squadron One.
In June 2003, the library was dedicated and named in memory of Lieutenant Junior Grade Andrew Triplett, a Shuqualak, Mississippi, native, who was killed during the terrorist attack on the USS Cole (DDG-67) in Aden, Yemen, on October 12, 2000.
In July 2004, the last T-2C "Buckeye" left NAS Meridian marking the end of Navy strike pilot training in that aircraft. Two months later the Search and Rescue mission was divested.
Over the years, NAS Meridian has become a refuge for both aircraft and people who have been evacuated from the coast because of hurricanes. As early as September 1965, hundreds of planes from Florida bases arrived to escape the wrath of Hurricane Betsy.
In the last decade, there have been several evacuations.
During the Gulf Coast evacuation for Hurricane Andrew in August 1992, NAS provided transient support for 53 TH-57 helicopters from NAS Whiting Field that were en-route to NAS Memphis; additionally, temporary housing for more than 1,000 evacuated military personnel and dependents was also provided.
In 1995, the station also provided shelter for more than 1,000 personnel during Gulf Coast evacuations as a result of Hurricane Erin in August and Hurricane Opal in October. In September 1998, the station sheltered more than 1,000 personnel escaping the effects of Hurricane Georges on the Gulf Coast.
During Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, nearly 1,000 evacuees (and more than 200 pets) from the Gulf Coast found a safe haven at NAS. McCain Field also provided refueling services for 100 H-57's from Whiting Field that were going to and from their evacuation site in Millington.
NAS Meridian and its tenant commands participate regularly in community service. Organizations supported include Special Olympics, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Habitat for Humanity and various local schools, just to name a few. Additionally, several commands participate in the Adopt-a-Highway program.