On July 16, 1957, the first shovel of earth was thrown, marking the beginning of Naval Auxiliary Air Station Meridian, which was commissioned July 14, 1961.
Capt. W.F. Krantz received the golden key to the air station, and senior Mississippi U.S. Sen. 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 Adm. John S. McCain of Teoc, Mississippi.
VT-7 arrived at NAAS Meridian on July 12, 1961, then split Dec. 15 to form its sister squadron, 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 1 was commissioned and 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 Stennis and many other high-ranking military and civilian officials, attended the dedication of the new Naval Technical Training Center, known locally as the Stennis Center. It was officially commissioned April 17, 1974.
Naval Air Station Meridian was selected and upgraded to a major shore command Oct. 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 Cpl. Roy M. Wheat, a Moselle, Mississippi, native and 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 Capt. 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, Georgia and Tennessee.
In July 1994, Training Squadron 23 (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.
First Lt. Karen Fuller Tribbett received her Wings of Gold on Oct. 17, 1997, becoming the first female strike pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.
In October 1998, VT-19 was redesignated 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, Aug. 26.
On Aug. 18, 2000, Marine Aviation Training Support Group was redesignated Marine Aviation Training Support Squadron 1.
In June 2003, the library was dedicated and named in memory of Lt. j.g. Andrew Triplett, a Shuqualak, Mississippi, native, who was killed during the terrorist attack on USS Cole
(DDG-67) in Aden, Yemen, on Oct. 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.
During the Gulf Coast evacuation for Hurricane Andrew in August 1992, NAS Meridian 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 provided. More than 50 aircraft from NAS Whiting Field and NAS Pensacola were flown to Meridian in June 1995, when Hurricane Allison threatened the Gulf Coast.
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 Meridian. McCain Field also provided refueling services for 100 H-57s from Whiting Field that were going to and from their evacuation site in Millington.
August 2005 brought Hurricane Katrina to the Gulf Coast. NAS Meridian provided safe haven for 1,000 military and family members who were evacuated from that region. The station also hosted FEMA, which set up its Mississippi Operational Area on board. FEMA received and dispatched 3,000 trucks loaded with supplies during its relief efforts. Also, the U.S. Public Health Service used half of Hangar 1 to establish a 500-bed Federal Emergency Contingency Unit. It was designed to provide non-acute care for patients transferred from hospitals on the Gulf Coast, where beds were needed for more critically ill patients.
In 2011, NAS Meridian celebrated its 50th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of naval aviation with its “Golden Wings Over Meridian” Air Show, March 26-27. The event was attended by more than 20,000 spectators and featured the Navy’s flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels. The Honorable Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy and former Mississippi governor, also attended the air show.
In March 2012, a state-of-the-art Child Development Center opened. The 9,175-square-foot facility features 66 spaces for infants, pretoddler, toddler and preschoolers, doubling the capacity of the old center. The $5.66 million project features solar hot water heating and in-floor heating in classrooms.
NAS Meridian was recognized in 2012 by the secretary of the Navy for its continued efforts in energy conservation, receiving the SECNAV Blue Certification, which was upgraded to Gold in 2013. Also in 2012, NAS Meridian was recognized by Navy Region Southeast for its community service efforts with three first-place and one second-place honor in the Navy Community Service program.
NAS Meridian received distinction as the CNO’s “Honorable Mention” in the Navy-wide USS Bainbridge Award for outstanding environment stewardship cooperative efforts with local communities.
In November 2013, Marine Aviation Training Support Squadron 1 dedicated the obstacle course to Cpl. Sylvester Hood Sr., a Meridian native and Montford Point Marine.
In 2013, NAS Meridian was certified as a StormReady Community by the National Weather Service. Also in 2013, NAS Meridian received the secretary of the Navy Gold Certification for energy conservation and awareness. The installation’s newspaper, The Skyline, was recognized in the Metro Newspaper Category in the Russell Egnor Navy Media Awards program. The Roy M. Wheat Galley was awarded the second consecutive five-star accreditation for outstanding food service by the Capt. Edward F. Ney Inspection Team. The branch health clinic was awarded the Blue “H” — Navy Surgeon General’s Health Promotion and Wellness Silver Eagle Award.
NAS Meridian is dedicated to the environment and energy conservation. The installation was selected as a 2013 CNO Environmental Restoration (Installation) Award winner and as Southeast Region’s 2013 Environmental Stewardship Flagship. It also earned the Secretary of the Navy Energy and Water Management Award (Gold Level) for the second consecutive year.
In 2014, NAS Meridian facilitated 137,008 flight operations while graduating 116 new U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and international naval aviators. Air Operations earned a grade of “Outstanding” on the annual Carrier and Field Service Unit recertification for its 21st consecutive year. Naval Technical Training Center Meridian graduated 2,600 Sailors from the Navy Administration and Supply “A” schools, while 580 Marines graduated from Marine Aviation Training Support Squadron 1.
As further testament to NAS Meridian’s exacting customer service standards, for two consecutive years the branch health clinic was awarded the Blue “H” with Gold Star — the Navy surgeon general’s highest health promotion and wellness award. Furthermore, this year the Navy Operational Support Center’s Medical Department also earned the award. For three consecutive years, the Roy M. Wheat Galley maintained its five-star accreditation for outstanding food service, and unaccompanied housing earned the CEL & Associates “A” list platinum award. Meridian’s MWR program earned its first three-star accreditation award in 2014. Meridian’s Navy Exchange earned an extremely high customer service index score of 93 percent and was selected as the 2014 Bingham Award winner, with annual sales of $8.88 million.
In 2015, NAS Meridian facilitated 142,396 flight operations while graduating 78 new U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and international naval aviators. Air Operations earned a grade of “Outstanding” on the annual Carrier and Field Service Unit recertification for its 22nd consecutive year, and the Arresting Gear Maintenance program was lauded by NAVAIR CAFSU as the “Gold Standard” for the Navy. Naval Technical Training Center Meridian graduated 1,728 Sailors from the Navy Administration and Supply “A” schools, while 658 Marines graduated from Marine Aviation Training Support Squadron 1.
As further testament to NAS Meridian’s exacting customer service standards, for three consecutive years the Naval Branch Health Clinic Meridian received the Blue H-Bronze star award for health promotions. In addition, the clinic earned the National Committee for Quality Assurance recertification, and the lab received the College of American Pathologists recertification. Furthermore, this year the Navy Operational Support Center’s Medical Department also earned the Blue H Health Promotion and Wellness Gold Star Level. For four consecutive years, the Roy M. Wheat Galley maintained its five-star accreditation for outstanding food service, and Unaccompanied Housing earned the CEL & Associates “A” list platinum award.
Public Works executed multiple energy conservation measures which saved 12,702 million BTUs, reduce energy by 7.5 percent and annual energy savings of $163,048. These programs lead to the installation receiving the Secretary of the Navy Energy and Water Management Award (Gold Level). Facilities managed by Public Works have a plant replacement value of $641 million.
Meridian accomplished a number of “firsts” in 2015: first Joint Land Use Study with Lauderdale and Kemper counties and the cities of Meridian and Marion; first Navy airfields to use LED runway and airfield lighting; first Auxiliary Security Force instituted in over 15 years with 27 new augmentees; and the Navy’s first Community Recreation program with a consolidated golf, outdoor recreation, and tickets and tours center that is the new model for other installations to emulate.
In 2016, NAS Meridian celebrated 55 years of supplying the lifeblood of Naval Aviation by expertly training new pilots, while maintaining a strong bond with the surrounding community. NAS Meridian’s 170,981 hours of flight operations resulted in 98 newly winged USN, USMC, and International Naval Aviators, accounting for 48 percent of all CNATRA strike aviators. NTTC Meridian and MATTS-1 trained 1,877 Sailors and 736 Marines.
Meridian continued its tradition of sustained superior service to the Fleet, Fighter and Family, earning a number of consecutive awards: Air Operations earned its 23rd “Outstanding” annual Carrier and Field Service Unit re-certification, Meridian received its fourth SECNAV Gold Level Energy Award and its third Retention Excellence Award, the Roy M. Wheat Galley earned its fifth Ney Five-Star accreditation, Unaccompanied Housing earned its third CEL “A” List Platinum Award, Family Housing Pine Crest area received its fourth award overall at the Platinum level and Juniper Ridge area received its third “A” List Award.
Air Operations completed conversion of a Navy Air Traffic Control Facility to an All-Navy Class IV/B approach control facility — the Navy’s first facility with this accreditation in more than 40 years. A new $430 million economic impact study was released.
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, Florida, which has about 5,000 acres.
NAS Meridian and its tenant commands participate regularly in community service. Organizations supported include Special Olympics, the 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.
The theme “Navy Meridian, Pride of the South” reflects the superb teamwork that exists between the base and the Meridian community.