Jackson County

Having dozens of Keesler airmen at your home for Thanksgiving ... priceless

Bobby Walker has a lot of friends. And that’s a good thing, because he needs every one of them this Thanksgiving.

Walker, 44, a construction supervisor, is hosting another big Thanksgiving at his home this year — airmen from Keesler Air Force Base, 75 and counting.

It’s part of the Home Away From Home program at the base. Young airmen who are at the base for training don’t get too many opportunities to get off the base. This will be one of them.

The program pairs up airmen (about 400 total) and homes in the area. Walker takes as many as he can and says he’ll take the ones that aren’t placed by Thursday.

“I’ll pick up the slack,” he said.

He wants everyone who signed up to go off base to get a chance to do so.

Walker and his wife and three children have been working this week on their home and yard. He has an average yard in Gulf Park Estates.

“It’s going to be tight this year,” he said.

But his home on Wednesday was expected to be a beehive of activity as people drop off food, help install TVs (there will be five altogether) and heaters, pitch in to raise the central tent, clean out the garage for tables and chairs, set up the corn hole and ring toss games and on and on.

This is like family Thanksgiving on steroids.

But each year, the young men and women seem to be appreciative. They enjoy getting a taste of the South.

The cooking at Walker’s began Wednesday evening — pulled pork sliders, crawfish, shrimp, turkey and ham “done in all different ways.”

There will be mac and cheese with ham, seafood stuffing, regular stuffing, cornbread stuffing and a variety of cranberry sauces.

Walker started out two years ago hosting 19. Last year it was 31. And this year he said he’ll cut it off at 84.

He worked well after dark on the days leading up to Thanksgiving, but he expresses nothing but gratitude and exuberance. It’s like a calling for him. He wants to help.

The Ole Biloxi Fillin’ Station is smoking six turkeys and frying two for him. He has 40 to 50 friends who are making contributions from money to cooked and sliced hams.

These are “real friends, personal friends,” Walker said, the kind you can count on.

Blossman Gas is lending him a really big grill and sponsoring all the propane, he said. Gulf Coast Produce Distributors will donate vegetables.

There will be a stop by the beach for donuts on Thanksgiving morning, sponsored by TatoNut in Ocean Springs and Glazed Doughnuts in D'Iberville.

So many of the airmen last year were interested in the beach and the Mississippi Sound, with its barrier islands. So they will hit the beach in Ocean Springs for milk, orange juice, water and donuts.

His friend Vincent Burke, with In The Zone child care, will leave his family twice on Thanksgiving to take the airmen to the beach and to and from the base. They have to be back by 6:15 p.m.

Walker said his only problem this year is finding crawfish.

And why is that important?

“People trying crawfish for the first time,” he said. “That’s the fun.”