KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Twenty-four civic leaders from Mississippi joined 403rd Wing leaders on a community relations tour, commonly referred to as a Civic Leader Tour, April 11-12, to Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado.
Civic leader tours provide members of the Mississippi Gulf Coast community an opportunity to visit other bases and learn about their missions. This year’s tour featured the 302nd Airlift Wing and U.S. Air Force Academy.
“These trips provide our community leaders an invaluable experience that furthers their understanding of the Department of Defense, U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Air Force Reserve,” said Col. Stuart Rubio, 403rd Wing commander and the tour’s host. “This trip provided insight into different mission sets, what Reserve Citizen Airmen accomplish daily in support of our nation, as well as how the Air Force prepares future leaders.”
Carrie Taranto-Chipley, D’Iberville City Councilwoman for Ward II, said the trip exceeded her expectations. As someone who is not in the military, she said it provided great insight into topics she wasn’t familiar with.
“This trip provided an in depth look at the military, and I now have a better appreciation for what our service members do for the country and community,” said Taranto-Chipley, adding that community leaders can benefit from the learning experiences offered through the civic leader tour program.
The tour began at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, where civic leaders were educated on the missions of the 403rd Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit, and 81st Training Wing, Keesler’s host unit which oversees education and training of Airmen. After the briefing, the tour participants boarded a C-130J Super Hercules, flown by an 815th Airlift Squadron crew. The wing has 20 C-130J Super Hercules aircraft. Ten of those aircraft are flown by the 815th AS, a tactical airlift unit that delivers supplies and personnel in support of combatant commanders. The other 10 are dedicated to the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron mission, which is the only unit in the Department of Defense that flies weather reconnaissance missions into severe tropical weather June 1 to Nov. 30, among other missions.
At Peterson, the group learned about another unique mission—aerial firefighting. The 302nd AW supports the Air Force Reserve’s only aerial firefighting mission utilizing the U.S. Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System. This mission involves air dropping fire retardant to assist with suppression of wildland fires, and the wing works with the National Interagency Fire Center and U.S. Forest Service to combat fires. The civic leaders visited maintenance areas and were briefed on the equipment that C-130H Hercules aircrew use while flying and conducting their missions.
The next day, the group visited the U.S. Air Force Academy, a military service academy for officer candidates of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force. It’s the youngest of the five U.S. service academies, graduating its first class in 1959. Once the cadets graduate, they become second lieutenants in the Air or Space Forces. The group received a briefing about the U.S. Air Force Academy and what cadets experience during their four years there. The civic leaders then toured the Center for Character and Leadership Development, the Visitor’s Center, and had lunch with some of the cadets.
“As a parent, it’s encouraging to see how the U.S. Air Force Academy is raising up strong young people who are putting service first and self second,” said Alison Baker, assistant district attorney for the 2nd Circuit district for Mississippi. “We as parents can implement that in our own lives.”
Dr. Shannon Campbell, 81st Training Wing honorary commander and University of Southern Mississippi senior associate vice president, said the trip was an incredible experience to learn about the Air Force first-hand.
“It was an opportunity to meet and interact with other leaders from across the coast, but in a way that was focused on learning about the Air Force,” she said. “All of the tours provided such insight into the logistics required for these bases and units to operate; just learning about the detail that goes into our warfighters and the equipment they use is something I’ve never fully understood or appreciated until this trip. And, to have our host (Colonel Rubio) fly the plane to the location was an amazing experience. I’ve never had a host do that before. He gets the all-time coolest host award.”
“Everyone has been so accommodating, nice and gracious during this trip,” said Baker. “To have this amazing opportunity is humbling.”