The seventieth anniversary of NAS Whiting Field was celebrated this week during a monthly, community update meeting with area leaders, politicians and commanding officers from the military base.
The base is unique in the fact that it is the only naval air station named after a man and not a location, said Capt. Matthew Coughlin, NAS Whiting Field commanding officer. It shows the uniqueness of the base.
"I'm very proud as commanding officer to have a namesake like that," Coughlin said. "I know there's been an effort to change it."
The commanding officer said Capt. Kenneth Whiting was a pioneer, who hedged all bets early in his career, grasping the opportunity to train as a Naval aviator. He saw that as the future of the Navy.
Whiting, while stationed in Manilla in the Philippines, tested the ability of a submarine, according to Coughlin. In around 20 feet of water, Whiting sank the submarine and squeezed into the torpedo tube---the bay was around 18 inches in diameter. He flooded the compartment and forced his way out of the chute. In 77 seconds underwater, he resurfaced in front of his men, earning their trust.
In the past 70 years, there have been 40 commanding officers at the base. That breaks down to an average of one year and nine month terms of service, according to Coughlin. He said he was honored to have orders to serve for three years as commanding officer.
Coughlin said NAS Whiting Field serves a "national strategic importance," with a mission to train helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft pilots. Since 1943, the military installation has trained more than 40,000 aviators.
The base has a strong influence in the area, bolstering the community with $1.13 billion or sustaining around 35 percent of the local economy, according to Coughlin. The base serves as the primary training ground for 100 percent of the military's helicopter pilots and around 60 percent of fixed-wing aircraft pilots.
Mayor Guy Thompson said the base holds a rich history and the base shares a great partnership with the surrounding area. The area has been supportive of the base, whereas other communities have more of an adversarial role with military establishments.
"Some communities have been known to complain over the noise of engines," Thompson said. "I say that is the sound of freedom."
The mayor said that the area is attractive to retired and active duty military. A lot of people choose to stay in Milton, or move back here after leaving the service.
"The draw is our community lifestyle," Thompson said. "It's in our people. It's our beautiful community."
Florida Representative Doug Broxson spoke in steadfast support of the unique blend of military and small-town charm.
"We are committed to having a strong military presence in the community," Broxson said. "A lot of communities would love to have this base."