Sparring over NAS Meridian
By By William F. West / community editor
Oct. 27, 2002
The future of Naval Air Station Meridian has gotten plenty of attention from the area's two leading congressional contenders and that's fine with one civilian with a special interest in the military installation.
Lamar McDonald, a Meridian insurance agent, is chairman of the Navy Meridian Team. The organization wants to get NAS Meridian off BRAC, the federal government commission's list of bases that could be realigned or closed.
McDonald said he believes the issue of NAS Meridian has been adequately debated by U.S. Reps. Chip Pickering and Ronnie Shows. He said the Navy Meridian Team will work with whichever of the two is elected on Nov. 5.
Pickering and Shows both want NAS Meridian to remain open, but the two have taken issue with each other over who is the most committed to achieving that goal.
Shows has said Pickering failed to support a proposal by U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor that would have shielded military bases in the state from another round of base closures.
Shows has implied that means Pickering does not support NAS Meridian. Pickering denied such claims and last week reminded voters he has a letter from the Navy Department praising NAS Meridian as a premier initial jet training installation.
It's difficult to get a feel for support on bases for either Pickering or Shows.
That's because the federal government has strict regulations about base personnel commenting to the news media during election years. And any on-base comments to news reporters about any subject are cleared by NAS Meridian spokesman Susan Junkins.
There are civilians who work at NAS Meridian in aircraft maintenance for Boeing Co. and Sikorsky Support Services, but Junkins said comments from them have to be cleared through their respective site managers.
Boeing said its site manager was out of the Meridian area and unavailable for comment. Sikorsky's site manager also could not be reached for comment.
McDonald said the congressional race is discussed at NAS Meridian, but only in an off-the-record manner.
But, McDonald said, "Sure, they're very interested."
NAS Meridian, commissioned in 1961, survived base closure rounds in 1991, 93 and 95 and is home to two squadrons that train flight students.
Over the years, the base has grown to include the G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery Naval Reserve and a regional counterdrug training academy for law enforcement personnel.