By Emily Klinga
Pensacola has a deep-rooted history of military presence positioned by our very own Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola. Proclaimed a Naval Air Station in 1914, NAS Pensacola is renowned as the “Cradle of Naval Aviation” supporting the initial flight training operations for the US Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard for every naval aviator, naval flight officer, and enlisted aircrewman. It is no wonder that the Greater Pensacola area is also home to more than 35,000 military retirees.
Military personnel and their families have proven to give back to the Pensacola community as well. According to the Northwest Florida Economic Development Alliance, FloridaWest, “The Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest economic engine in Greater Pensacola, with more than $7.8 billion in total economic impact.”
As NAS Pensacola brings many military personnel and their families through town, the local businesses and organizations love to show their support through various forms of military appreciation. Annual appreciation opportunities include the Rosamond Johnson Day at Rosamond Johnson Beach, Star-Spangled Salute: Military Appreciation Festival, Red, White & Birdies Spring Golf Classic, Wreaths Across America, various fundraisers for the USO, and so much more! These simple acts of appreciation from local businesses and community members show dedication to those who serve our country, community, and businesses every day.
To many young and eager flight students pursuing their aviation careers, Pensacola is the first duty station appointed to them among many during their aviation track. A very welcomed duty station with access to beautiful beaches right out the base’s back gate and a plethora of recreation opportunities onboard such as golf, sailing, scuba diving, and much more. NAS Pensacola features civilian-friendly activities as well, including the National Naval Aviation Museum, the National Flight Academy, and the Pensacola Lighthouse. Visitors and locals can oftentimes catch the sight of the famous Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron practicing above their home base.
NAS Pensacola is the launch point for naval aviator’s service in the sky, but for many, it represents much more- a harbor of amazing memories and perhaps life-changing moments that will never be forgotten. After traveling the country and the world pursuing their duties, it is common for many military retirees to choose Pensacola as their hometown and ideal retirement destination.
Next is a testimonial of the experience of a Marine Corps Pilot and his family who made the very decision to return to Pensacola, a story that many in Pensacola who lived similar paths can truly relate to.
(Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.)
In 1990, Robert was attending flight school as a Marine Corps Pilot in training. He was having the time of his life living in a condo on the beach in Perdido Key with one of his fellow flight school buddies, of course just walking distance from the world-famous Flora-Bama. Robert had so many amenities living the coastal lifestyle, one of his favorites being the vast amount of water recreation available. He especially loved spending days scuba diving and spearfishing in the gulf.
One night, Robert met Faye while enjoying the nightlife in nearby downtown Pensacola. They met at Trader Jon’s, which was the watering hole of choice for U.S. Military pilots who trained in Pensacola known for the eccentric owner Martin “Trader Jon” Weissman and his massive collection of Navy memorabilia. Faye, the sweet, homegrown Alabama girl, did not realize at the time, that within the next two years she herself would be inducted into the military way of life.
**Sidenote: (While Trader Jon’s officially closed its doors in 2003, it is marked by a historical landmark sign at its original location on South Palafox street!)
Before leaving Perdido Key for Robert’s next military assignment, Robert and Faye were married at the Naval Aviation Memorial Chapel located on board NAS Pensacola. The beautiful ceremony concluded with a traditional military saber arch to salute the newlyweds. Dressed in uniform, Robert’s squadron friends lined up in formation just outside the chapel doorway. On command, the saber team raised their swords in a high arch and presented the married couple as they proceeded through the arch, where Faye was officially welcomed to the Marine Corps. The ceremony followed with a lovely reception with family and friends at the Mustin Beach Officers Club overlooking Pensacola Bay.
Life carried on for Robert and Faye after Pensacola- they had three amazing children, moved around to six different states, and created many incredible memories with new family and friends along the way. Years later, Robert ended his active-duty service but remained a part of the Marine Corps Reserves- continuing to work as a pilot in both the civilian and military sectors. After their youngest child graduated high school and left for college, Robert officially retired from the Marine Corps, after 32 years of service.
Robert and Faye were ready to choose where they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.
Needless to say, the decision was a no-brainer; back to where it had all begun and where they made so many of their fondest memories- back to the place where old friends resided, and the military-loving community felt like family. Pensacola was a place where they could cherish old memories and make new ones for many years to come. How could they resist a destination with idyllic white-sand beaches, year-round breathtaking sunsets, and temperate beach-perfect weather?
Since their return to Perdido Key, Robert and Faye have been able to share their experiences with their children. Their oldest son even began his own career in the U.S. Navy, coming through NAS Pensacola for his training as a Naval Flight Officer. Robert was more than honored with the exceptional experience of pinning the wings of gold on his son at NAS Pensacola, the place where his very own military aviation journey began.
Today, Robert and Faye live happily in the Perdido Key area while enjoying boating, fishing, golfing, eating oysters, and sipping bushwhackers. They have crossed paths with many other military families who share their story and their love of Pensacola.