292 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI NAVAL AIR STATION, MERIDIAN For more than fifty years, Naval Air Station (NAS) Meridian has provided aviation and technical training to Navy and Marine Corps personnel. The original $60 million facility, known as Naval Auxiliary Air Station Meridian, was commissioned on July 14, 1961, when U.S. Senator from Mississippi John C. Stennis spoke at the opening ceremony. Meridian’s facility and operation grew quickly and by 1968 became a full naval air station. Throughout the 1970s and after, Naval Air Station Meridian continued to expand and receive high recognition for its expert training programs. In 1973, President Richard Nixon visited the station with Senator Stennis for the dedication of a new training center. Today, Naval Air Station Meridian accomplishes its mission of "Training the Warfighter" by providing timely, quality services, and facilities in an environmentally safe, secure community. In 2016, NAS Meridian celebrated fifty-five years of supplying the lifeblood of Naval Aviation by expertly training 98 USN, USMC and International Aviators, through 170,981 hours of flight operations. In addition, NTTC Meridian and MATTS-1 trained more than 1,800 enlisted Sailors and nearly 800 Marines. Also located on board NAS Meridian is the Regional Counterdrug Training Academy (RCTA). Operated by the Mississippi National Guard, RCTA has provided "street-level" counterdrug training to 112,000 civilian and military law enforcement officers from all across the U.S. since 1992. NAS Meridian is the largest employer in Lauderdale County with 3,000 jobs, in addition to a $430 million economic impact on east Mississippi yearly. PHOTOS COURTESY OF NAS MERIDIAN PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE