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New aeromedical squadron coming to Keesler

A new aeromedical evacuation squadron will be stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi beginning in the fall.

The squadron will have 40 officers and 82 enlisted personnel. It will be part of the 403rd Wing, which includes the Flying Jennies and Hurricane Hunters.

"This is a big deal for us," said Col. Frank Amadeo, 403rd Wing commander. "Over the past couple years, we've been faced with the possibility of losing airplanes. But here we are, adding a squadron."

The squadron will have five air reserve technicians and 117 traditional reservists.

Aeromedical evacuation squadrons are mostly housed in Reserve and Guard units. They are responsible for transporting patients on airplanes and providing time-sensitive critical care to those patients during military operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

Amadeo said Keesler is a perfect home for such a squadron.

Among other aircraft, aeromedical evacuation personnel use the same C-130Js flown by the 815th Airlift Squadron, or the Flying Jennies, and the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, or the Hurricane Hunters.

"What makes this a really good choice, and an easy choice, is that when we do training missions, we have an empty cargo compartment. And that's exactly what an aeromedical squadron needs to maintain wartime readiness."

Essentially, the new personnel can use existing training missions to conduct their own training, which saves money for the Air Force.

The medical center at Keesler -- the second-largest hospital on an Air Force base -- benefits from being able to train its own critical-care team at home while the new squadron can get medical training right on base.

"It's a really good decision for the Air Force," Amadeo said.

The move comes as military bases around the country -- and leaders in their surrounding communities -- prepare for the Department of Defense's next Base Closure and Realignment Commission, which assesses the value and effectiveness of military installations and advises Congress and the president on how to best organize U.S. forces. President Barack Obama ordered a new round of recommendations for fiscal year 2017.

Military and community leaders in the South have been working on how to best demonstrate the necessity of their local bases.

Both of Mississippi's senators and Rep. Steven Palazzo lauded the move in a press release announcing the decision.

"Evacuation squadrons play an important role in our national security and in saving the lives of wounded servicemen and women," said Sen. Thad Cochran, who chairs the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. "I'm pleased with the decision to station these men and women at Keesler, which is one of our best Air Force bases."

This is the second similar announcement to come this year. In March, officials announced the arrival of a new unit devoted to the maintenance of the Flying Jennies.

The existing maintenance unit will move to support Hurricane Hunter aircraft.

That unit will have 145 people but was part of a bigger move to add about 230 jobs to the 403rd Wing.