JAY — NAS Whiting Field proudly held a historic ribbon cutting on Jan. 30 for a new air field in Jay known as Site X. Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast completed an exchange of helicopter Outlying Landing Field sites with Escambia County Jan. 29.

The counties exchanged an operational helicopter training airfield, Naval Outlying Landing Field (NOLF) Site 8, located in Escambia County, for a new helicopter NOLF, known as Site X, located in neighboring Santa Rosa County.

"This has been a great journey with all the collaboration that has gone on between the different stakeholders and the community. It's great to literally watch this [effort] come in for a landing now and come to fruition," Escambia County Assistant County Administrator Matt Coughlin said. Coughlin is also a former Whiting Field commanding officer.

Santa Rosa County Commissioner Don Salter said he's been working with Coughlin and others since the early 2000s to make this happen.  

According to Salter, this is the "Navy’s first new outlying field in 50 years," that happens to be in Jay. The new field "enhances and protects the mission of NAS Whiting field for year sand years to come," he said.

NAS public information officer Julie Ziegenhorn said in a press release that Site X would offer the Navy a new helicopter flight training facility that meets current helicopter flight training requirements. She said it would be able to accomodate capabilities including night vision-device training, raised pinnacles, a confined-area landing zone, dual aircraft refueling, as well as new paved runways and gravel landing pads.

"This land exchange project was extraordinarily challenging considering there was little prior experience or formal guidance available," NAVFAC Southeast Project Manager Ferdinand Salomon said. "Without the outstanding contributions of a small, but talented and motivated group of team members from NAVFAC, Naval Air Station Whiting Field and the Escambia County staff, this project would have been absolutely impossible."

Speaking at the ribbon cutting event was commander of the Navy region for the southeast, Rear Admiral Bette Bolivar, who said the exchange was a great thing for both counties and give NAS Whiting Field a great place to train in helicopter flight.

"Never before has a fully functional and vital military airfield been exchanged for a newly constructed airfield that meets the same capabilities and training requirements," Bolivar said. "This is a monumental achievement to have brought this ambitious plan to fruition."

Jim Omans, a representative for the assistant secretary of the Navy, Jim Balocki, said the entire in-depth project took several years to complete.

"We can't thank Escambia County enough for their support and work through this project,"Omans said.

Salter also read a proclamation naming the road leading to the air field after a Vietnam veteran who had received the Medal of Honor for his service during the war, retired United States Marine Corps Major Stephen Pless, a special guest at the ceremony.

With the addition of Site X, the county has now six outlying helicopter fields, which are under the jurisdiction of the Santa Rosa County Commissioners. Other outlying fields include Spencer, Pace, Choctaw, and Naval Outlying Field (NOLF) Santa Rosa.