Meridian Star

March 30, 2014

Budget cuts threaten counter-drug training center

By Brian Livingston / blivingston@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —      NAS Meridian's counter-drug training academy is among five across the nation that could close if federal funding is cut.

    Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has cut funding for the academies from the 2015 defense budget.

    The Regional Counterdrug Training Academy could lose the half dozen staffers and $1 million annual budget if the funding is not renewed.

    Mississippi's U.S. congressmen have written a letter to Hagel asking him to restore the funds.

    According to the letter, the National Guard Training Centers have provided counter-drug training to more than 680,923 law enforcement officials. Without these training centers, law enforcement officers would be unable to obtain this valuable training, drastically reducing the United States Northern Command's ability to combat narco-terrorism, and diminish the support they provide to other combatant commanders, the letter states.

    The Regional Counterdrug Training Academy, (RCTA) on board NAS Meridian is the oldest and most established of the training facilities. It was created by the Gulf States Counterdrug Initiative in 1992 and funded annually by Congress and the Department of Defense, which allocates the money to the Mississippi National Guard.

    Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said he would hate to see the academy because of the vital training it provides to law enforcement officers.

    "If the bad guys continue to get smarter, and the good guys can't keep up with training, then this country will go down the drain much quicker than it already is," Sollie said. "This loss would be a huge blow to countless law enforcement agencies."

    "These instructors are the finest in their fields," Sollie said. "In addition, if the centers close, then the pipeline of information from these instructors and the members of the various agencies who attend these courses will stop, instantly."

    Because of its success and national draw, RCTA spawned four sister academies all modeled after the original: Midwest Counterdrug Training Center in Iowa, Multijurisdictional Counterdrug Task Force Training in Florida, Northeast Counterdrug Training Center in Pennsylvania and Western Regional Counterdrug Training Center in Washington.

    Sollie said he has routinely sent his officers to the RCTA at the base for training. He said his department has a standing invitation to attend whenever another agency drops out and creates an opening.

    "We have sent a number of officers there for training," Sollie said. "We have used the facility a great deal and it has made our officers better at there jobs."