After 37 years, military officials said Tuesday, it's still special to see an entire community thank members of the military for their service.
About 1,000 people attended this year's Salute to the Military, aimed at honoring and recognizing military service. And the event, though opulent and suffused with fanfare, is a fair reflection of the Coast's treatment of its military residents year-round, officials said.
"As military members, we move around all the time," said Maj. Gen. Mark Brown, the commander of the Second Air Force at Keesler Air Force Base. "I think most people in the military will tell you that what we want is a community that wants us, that respects us, that's good to us and our families. We get that on the Gulf Coast."
Brown, the evening's keynote speaker, is responsible for the development, oversight and direction of basic training, initial-skills training and technical training for enlisted force and support officers.
The command includes training wings at Keesler, as well as four other U.S. bases and 103 locations around the world.
He has been in his role since July 2014.
"We call this place a hidden jewel," he said of the Coast. "This is a community that understands us, appreciates us, respects us."
Eric Brown, chairman of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the gala, said the night helped honor and recognize the service of those in the military. But as concern over base consolidation and closings grows, it's also a chance to show businesses and the community as a whole support the Coast's bases and want them to stay open.
MSgt. Tammy L. Pierce was chosen out of 10 finalists to receive the Thomas V. Fredian Award, given each year to one enlisted member of a local military installation to recognize outstanding military and community service.
Pierce is the flight chief of the Medical Inpatient Flight and the Surgical Inpatient Flight units, part of Keesler's 81st Training Wing. She leads 90 staffers in managing two inpatient units that have more than 40 beds. The units treat 3,200 patients annually and Pierce oversees a budget of $1.5 million.
Pierce also manags the Squadron Unit Fitness Program for 145 active-duty members.
Her volunteer work includes serving as a point of contact for the Squadron Air Force Assistance Fund, raising $2,500 toward the Wing's goal. She also led a group of volunteers in support of preventing domestic violence and served as event leader for the Mississippi Special Olympics. She led volunteers at the Keesler Air Show and has supported or chaired numerous other events in the area.
Pierce will attend President Obama's State of the Union address as Congressman Steven Palazzo's guest.
Maj. Gen. Augustus L. Collins, adjutant general of the Mississippi National Guard, pointed to the thousands of Coast residents with connections to the military.
"This is an opportunity to say thanks to those who have served and continue to serve," he said. "Everything is represented in Mississippi -- Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, National Guard -- and we all come together to help make sure the citizens of the Gulf Coast are protected."