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403d leadership partner with civic leaders

The 403rd Wing leadership poses with the local community leaders after their induction into the Honarary Commanders program during a ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi February 9, 2019.  The Honorary Commanders program was developed to enhance relationships between the local civilian community and the 403rd wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shelton Sherrill)

The 403rd Wing leadership poses with the local community leaders after their induction into the Honarary Commanders program during a ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi February 9, 2019. The Honorary Commanders program was developed to enhance relationships between the local civilian community and the 403rd wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shelton Sherrill)

Col. Jennie Johnson, 403rd Wing commander poses with Mr. Michael Pocchiari, Garden Park Medical Center Vice President of Human Resources HCA during his induction into the Honorary Commanders program during a ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi February 9, 2019.  The Honorary Commanders program was developed to enhance relationships between the local civilian community and the 403rd wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shelton Sherrill)

Col. Jennie Johnson, 403rd Wing commander poses with Mr. Michael Pocchiari, Garden Park Medical Center Vice President of Human Resources HCA during his induction into the Honorary Commanders program during a ceremony at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi February 9, 2019. The Honorary Commanders program was developed to enhance relationships between the local civilian community and the 403rd wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shelton Sherrill)

Attendees of the Honorary Commanders Induction Ceremony participate in an icebreaker at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi February 9, 2019.  The Honorary Commanders program was developed to enhance relationships between the local civilian community and the 403rd wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shelton Sherrill)

Attendees of the Honorary Commanders Induction Ceremony participate in an icebreaker at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi February 9, 2019. The Honorary Commanders program was developed to enhance relationships between the local civilian community and the 403rd wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shelton Sherrill)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

As part of a greater Gulf Coast community outreach initiative, 403rd Wing leadership partnered with local civic leaders during a joint induction ceremony here Feb. 9.

For the first time, the 403d Wing induction ceremony was held alongside Second Air Force and the 81st Training Wing, as each organization took time to welcome new civic partners and thank current ones. The Air Force honorary commanders program was established to encourage dialogue between military and local civilian communities, to foster and strengthen the relationships among the two.

“It’s essential for military leaders to have that conversation with our community partners about what is happening on Keesler and to share the stories of our Citizen Airmen, our mission and our families,” said Col. Jennie Johnson, 403rd Wing commander. “As we strive to be the Air Force wing of choice, we couldn’t be successful without the support from our local community.”

Honorary commander participants are selected among elected officials, mayors, chamber of commerce members, local school principals and others who, because of their position or influence in the community, have a positive impact on the public support for the base. A community leader is paired with a designated unit commander at squadron level and above for a single two-year term.

Part of a larger Department of Defense initiative to help educate the American public about its all-volunteer military force, the honorary commander program helps increase public awareness of Keesler’s Reserve and active duty missions as well as Air Force policies and programs.  Although Keesler and the Gulf Coast enjoy a strong sense of community partnership, base leadership know that communication is key to maintaining that relationship.

 “We have created something unique. A nation of the people and for the people. That’s why we have events like this … to try to open up the gates and let people get in here and see what we are doing, see how we live, see what’s on the base and start to build those relationships,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy, Second Air Force commander. “Your military is made up of good people that are ready to defend this nation and put their lives in jeopardy so that our freedoms will live for all.”

In total, more than 50 community members from the Gulf Coast region were inducted into the outreach program.

Jenny Levens, Long Beach community affairs director and a first time inductee, was partnered with Chief Master Sgt. Amanda Stift, 403rd Wing Command Chief.

“It’s important for the military and the outside community, especially the community that the bases are located in, to have a great connection together,” said Levens. “If there is ever an issue, we can support one another. We are here, living, working and enjoying the region together, one big community.”