Keesler, city join in Air Force Partnership Program

Keesler Air Force Base was the site Thursday for the second in a series of meetings designed to chart new partnerships between the 76-year-old base and surrounding communities across the Mississippi Coast.

A large and diverse crowd of Keesler officers and community leaders filled the meeting room in the Bay Breeze Center to discuss ongoing partnerships and identify future collaborations that will benefit military and civilian interests.

“This is an ambitious and far-reaching program that strengthens the existing relationship between Biloxi and Keesler, and sets the stage for more profound partnerships in the years ahead,” said Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich.

The Air Force Partnership Program is an ongoing effort to bring bases and local communities together to establish mutual aid programs that would strengthen relationships and possibly help reduce operational costs and timeliness on both sides of installation fences.

“We are already seriously engaged with Keesler leadership on several levels, but there will always be opportunities to create more collaborations that substantially assist base and City operations,” said F. Cliff Kirkland, chief of Civic Innovation and Development for the City of Biloxi. Kirkland is also a two-year member of the Honorary Commander program at Keesler and is the city’s liaison to the base.

“As most everyone knows, we’re currently working on the new entry gate to Keesler, thanks to the leadership efforts of Mayor Gilich,” Kirkland added. “But we’re also working together on a Joint Land Use Study to assist base operations and future growth needs, along with other ongoing collaborations that benefit Biloxi and Keesler on various levels.”

Participants in the Air Force Partnership Program were divided into several groups at Thursday’s meeting and challenged with the task of identifying and developing future projects that would be mutually beneficial to Keesler and to the Coast. Some of the areas of focus were education, public safety and infrastructure.

The program is being conducted by Dr. Wayne C. Clark, deputy director of the 81st Mission Support Group at Keesler. He is being  assisted by Lt. Col. Chris Miller, who works on Air Force Partnership Programs for the Pentagon.

Future meetings will advance the program to the point of establishing specific collaborative projects, and clear action plans to begin and maintain the initiatives.