Salute to Military celebrates Armed Forces on the Coast

Jonathan Meziere shakes hands with a member of the Patriot Guard as he leads Marines to Salute to the Military on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, in Biloxi.
Jonathan Meziere shakes hands with a member of the Patriot Guard as he leads Marines to Salute to the Military on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, in Biloxi. ttisbell@sunherald.com

The Patriot Guard thanked everyone in uniform for their service as each arrived Tuesday at the 38th annual Salute to the Military.

The gala at the Coast Convention Center was all about honoring the active-duty and retired military and those who have died in service to their country.

Photos flashed on a screen of the 102 Mississippians who have died in the war on terror since 2001, “lest we forget,” said John McFarland, master of ceremonies.

Deborah James, secretary of the Air Force, in her fourth trip to Mississippi, was wearing a pin in salute to the 75th anniversary of Keesler Air Force Base.

“The vast majority of our airmen at one time or another actually come here to Keesler and receive important technical training,” she said.

“And of course, who could ever forget the Hurricane Hunters?” she said. They flew into Hurricane Matthew to collect data, and she said, “They’re saving lives for us in a very unique way.”

James grew up near the coast in New Jersey and now oversees an annual Air Force budget of $139 billion and nearly 660,000 active-duty, Guard and Reserve airmen.

She came to Biloxi, as other leaders in the Pentagon have, to express her appreciation to the communities surrounding Coast military installations for the support they give to the military.

Leaders from Coast cities are working together to protect the area bases against any possible closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

“We do have excess property and we would like to do that consolidation,” she said. But she called the efforts on the Coast “certainly premature.”

She focused on Keesler’s mission, the thousands of military people in South Mississippi and thousands who retired from the military and chose to stay.

“That means a great deal,” she said.

“My advice to the community would be keep doing all the fantastic things you are doing. You’re doing all the right things. We appreciate you. We know that you appreciate us. I think this is a very important location for us a long, long time into the future.”

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said, “The National Defense Authorization Act will go to conference very soon,” and he expects it will have a moratorium on base closings this year.

“We found the savings (from closures) that have been promised over time have not materialized,” he said. With the threats around the world, he said, this is not the time to be talking about consolidations.

Wicker said he served in the Air Force; U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., was a Navy man; Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-4, who also attended the event, served in the Marines; and Rep. Trent Kelly, R-1, is an Army veteran and still serves in the Guard.

A majority of Mississippi’s delegation in Washington served in the military, he said, something not many states can claim.

The Salute to the Military is a rare event, Wicker said, adding he believed it would show Secretary James “that we are the most pro-military state in the nation by far.”

Thomas V. Fredian Award

Navy Hospital Corpsman First Class Adrianyon Riley Sr. was presented with the Thomas V. Fredian Community Leadership Award. He is a native of Shreveport and a Marine stationed at the Seabee Base in Gulfport for 2 1/2 years.

Others nominated for the award were Marine Sgt. Nicholas Cella, Marine. Sgt. Christopher Champagne, Navy Utilitiesman Chief Timothy Dry; Navy Aerographer’s Mate First Class Jacqueline Gonzalez; Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Lane; Coast Guard Machinery Technician Second Class Reuben Cabrera-Matos; Air Force Staff Sgt. Michelle Pascas; and Navy Electronics Technician First Class Christopher Schmidt.