MILTON — U.S. Navy and Marine Corps personnel from Naval Air Station Whiting Field recently visited with the Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners as county officials recognized the installation as part of Military Appreciation Month.

Celebrated each May, Military Appreciation Month was instituted to encourage American citizens to recognize military personnel and installations in a show of appreciation for the work they do.

Naval Air Station Whiting Field has been part of Santa Rosa County for decades. The installation, which last year celebrated its 75th anniversary, is the first training site for all Navy, Marine and Coast Guard helicopter pilots. Additionally, NAS Whiting Field serves as the initial training ground for 60 percent of Navy, Marine and Coast Guard fixed-wing pilots, whether they end up flying fighter jets, tankers, transport planes or any of the three services' other types of aircraft.

Currently, Whiting Field trains nearly 1,200 pilots each year in the basics of flying — 600 in fixed-wing aircraft, 500 in helicopters and an additional 100 pilots in tilt-rotor aircraft.

As of 2017, Whiting Field was busier than Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest commercial airport in the world. For that year, the Atlanta airport had nearly 900,000 flight operations (takeoffs are counted as a single operation, as are landings), while Whiting Field's Training Air Wing 5 conducted more than 1.1 million flight operations.

In addition to its facilities near Milton, NAS Whiting Field operates a number of other training airfields across Northwest Florida and Alabama. Those fields provide opportunities for pilots to learn a variety of skills, from aircraft-carrier-based jet operations to landing helicopters in forested areas.

In all, NAS Whiting Field has an annual economic impact of nearly $1.5 billion in Santa Rosa County, according to recent information from the installation.