Outgoing wing commander
leaves lasting impression
DEPARTING COMMANDER Capt. Mark Needler, commander of Training Air Wing 1 at Naval Air Station Meridian, stands above a row of navy training jets parked outside of Hanger 1. Needler will step down from his post and retire from the Navy during an official change of command on Thursday. PHOTO BY PAULA MERRITT / THE MERIDIAN STAR
By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
June 1, 2003
A mounted 10-point buck and a 22-pound wild turkey line the office wall, while a photo of the hunter and his partner in full camouflage sits on the front of his desk.
But this is not your typical East Mississippi outdoorsman. Instead, the man behind the desk is originally from Montpelier, Ind., and commands Naval Air Station Meridian's Training Air Wing 1.
And when Capt. Mark Needler steps down from his job and retires from the Navy later this week, some of his closest friends and Navy colleagues say the base's wildlife population will be better off.
Needler is the 16th commander of Training Air Wing 1. When the wing was commissioned in 1971, it was the first of six in the Navy devoted solely to aviation training.
Capt. Daniel L. Ouimette, who is already on base, will officially become the 17th commander and replace Needler on Thursday during change-of-command ceremonies.
Like Needler, Ouimette will be in charge of training combat jet pilots at NAS Meridian.
Needler first took over as commander of Training Air Wing 1 in June 2001 21 years after he earned his own "wings of gold" while he was in training at NAS Meridian.
With his love of outdoors, Needler said, Meridian was a perfect fit. He killed another turkey on base this spring, and he plans to add it to his collection of mounted trophies soon.
More than just an outdoors enthusiast, Needler's employees said he's also been a great leader in heading the training of naval aviators at NAS Meridian.
Lt. Cmdr. Bradley Burgess, Needler's chief staff officer and second in command, said his boss is a "no nonsense" type of guy who is "pretty much by the book."
Burgess said he still remembers one of Needler's serious moments during a weekly staff meeting last summer.
Others say they'll remember Needler as an easy-going person.
Heimann learned two years ago of a special connection she had with Needler. In 1978, while Needler was a student pilot at the base, Heimann's husband, Rick, taught Needler.
Needler's job at the base hasn't always been easy.
In February, all of the wing's T-2C Buckeyes the base's primary training jet were grounded after instructors noticed a malfunction with one of the jet's flaps before a routine training flight.
Needler and other leaders at Training Air Wing 1 were forced to find another way to train pilots while the planes were grounded.
The base eventually considered a new course where pilots train only on the newer T-45C Goshawks, effectively phasing out the T-2s.
To loosen things up during the stressful stretch, Elliott, a Marine, said he played a practical joke on Needler. Elliott placed a Marine Corps sticker on the back of Needler's truck.
Needler says the jokes help ease the stress of the job.
As for the Marine sticker, Needler acknowledged it's still on the back of his full-size Ford F-350 truck.
Needler hasn't decided what he'll do or where his family will live after he retires.
He and his family now live in North Lauderdale County. One of his two daughters attends Meridian Community College, the other is set to be a senior this fall at Northeast Lauderdale High School.
One possibility is to find a job with a major airline so he can fly again. Another would be to remain in Lauderdale County so their children can continue their education here.
Either way, he said, he'll miss the Navy.