Meridian NAS: More than just jets

Published 1:48 pm Friday, October 2, 2009

Not so far from the offices of U.S. Navy Commander Christopher Bownds at the Navy Technical Training Center on board Naval Air Station Meridian, Rolls Royce jet engines can be heard roaring as they power up to take yet another student aviator and his instructor into a clear blue morning.

As the jet engine roar is replaced by yet another, and another, Bownds smiles knowing this is what many people in East Mississippi and West Alabama think of whenever NAS Meridian is mentioned.

Rightfully so, NAS Meridian graduates hundreds of Navy and Marine aviators each year who go on to defend America and its people. Bownds is quick to point out there are a great many more military personnel who graduate from the sprawling complex for other duties.

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“There are a lot more men and women in the Navy and Marines who are in support roles than who are on the front lines or flying aircraft,” Bounds said during a recent tour.

“Here is the place in which they learn their jobs so they are prepared to be assigned to their duty stations or fleet assignments.”

It is commonly held that for every combat soldier on the ground or aviator in the air there are about eight support personnel behind the scenes.

At the NTTC and Marine Aviation Support Squadron One across the road where Marine Maj. G.F. Boos commands, young men and women are taught how to be logistics specialists, aviator administration personnel, yeomen, any other job or service needed to run a ship, get an F/A-18 off the deck or keep track of the people and paperwork. The work of the expert instructors who teach the thousands of students is vital to the U.S. Navy and Marines running as smoothly as it does.

“This is the third stop on their way to their duty station,” said Boos of the hundreds of Marines who march through the gates of NAS Meridian. “At this point we are still hardening the armor of the U.S. Marine while at the same time teaching them the vital lessons and curriculum needed so they can do their jobs, whatever they may be, to the best of the Marine Corps standards set by those before them.”

Since 1992, about 60,000 law enforcement personnel have received specialized training at the base in first counter-drug, and then since 9-11 anti-terrorism programs. In fiscal 2009, more than 9,000 law enforcement personnel have graduated a wide assortment of training curriculums. Mississippi National Guard Col. Deborah Coleman is the commander of the Regional Counterdrug Training Academy (RCTA) and Tim Rutledge is the director of training.

“Our member states are Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee,” said Coleman. “But we have trained and continue to train law enforcement officers from all over the United States, Canada and elsewhere.”

RCTA provides no-cost, street level, case-making, counterdrug training to civilian law enforcement officers. RCTA is congressionally funded through the Department of Defense, and is managed by the Mississippi National Guard. In 2008, 5,345 law enforcement officers graduated from RCTA.

Rick Davis, a Chickasaw Police Department officer in Mobile, Ala., was with other officers this week learning the intricacies of clandestine labs and weapons of mass destruction. He said having the facility on the base and the training they receive from instructors who have been there and done just about everything in their law enforcement careers is invaluable to the agencies represented.

“These types of labs, such as those used to produce methamphetamine, are hazardous material sites and prone to blowing up,” said Davis. “We learn how to find, investigate and clean up such sites. The goal is to get the product off the streets but to also do it safely so no one is hurt.”

“Our goal is to train them and then leave them alone,” said Rutledge. “This is a high quality level of training and really a one of a kind environment that is perfect for teaching.”