Air Force awards Biloxi best community in command

Lt. Gen. Steve Kwast, commander of Air Education and Training Command, presented the 2017 Altus Trophy to the community of Biloxi during the Altus Trophy Celebration, May 18, in Biloxi, Mississippi.

The Biloxi Bay Area Chamber of Commerce was selected as this year’s trophy recipient based on its support and dedication to Keesler Air Force Base.

“It’s so great to be here on the Gulf Coast,” said Kwast. “This might be the first time the Gulf Coast has brought this trophy home, but after looking at what you’ve done as a community, it’s going to be tough for other bases to take this trophy away from you. As you all invest in the growth of [Keesler Air Force Base] and the community, this trophy will keep its place here on the Gulf Coast.”

The Altus Military Affairs Committee, in partnership with the Altus Chamber of Commerce, awards the Altus Trophy to an AETC community who provides the best support to its local military installation. After competitors are considered, a panel of former AETC commanders determines who is the best of the best.

“The committee picks the top three communities and then we send those packages up to be reviewed by former AETC commanders,” said Dr. Joe Leverett, Altus Trophy Committee chairman. “The trophy itself is a cup that sits on a base of granite from the mountains just north of Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. That granite symbolizes the rock-solid support the communities give to our military bases.”

This event marks the first time Kwast, Keesler leadership and members of the local community joined together to celebrate the win since it was announced in March.

“The commitment and dedication across the Gulf Coast is apparent every single beautiful Mississippi day,” said Col. Debra A. Lovette, 81st Training Wing commander. “We teach our Airmen what it means to give back, but what they see on the Gulf Coast really teaches them what community means and I thank every one of you for that.”

With two years of hard work of compiling several pages of accomplishments, the Gulf Coast was able to win the Altus Trophy for the first time since its inception nine years ago.

“It’s truly an honor to be here today to accept the 2017 Altus Trophy on behalf Biloxi Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Keesler, the city of Biloxi and the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Cree Cantrell, former president of the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce. “This project was a huge group effort. Without the whole team involved we wouldn’t have been able to bring this award home.”

Kwast said Biloxi’s investment into the Keesler community ultimately won them the award.

Examples of those investments included the City of Biloxi partnering with the State of Mississippi and many other local partners, to reach an agreement with Keesler AFB to secure $37 million in funding for the relocation of the main gate and additional infrastructure development. Construction will begin early this year and will be funded in part by a gift from the Mississippi Development Authority.

  • In 2017, Keesler AFB and stakeholders from every sector of the Mississippi Gulf Coast embarked on a yearlong planning initiative to uncover areas of Public-Public/Public-Private partnership opportunities that mutually benefit the local community.
  • In an effort to create a smoother hurricane evacuation plan, local school districts from Harrison County and other surrounding partners formed an agreement where Harrison County will lend the Air Force use of county Government-owned buses in the case of an evacuation order issued for Keesler AFB.
  • Partnering with several local colleges and universities, as well as Keesler AFB, the Air Force Association and the Civil Air Patrol, the community has implemented Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics events to local schools and universities through a variety of events hosted on- and off- base.
  • The Gulf Coast Centurions, Biloxi Parks and Recreation, and local businesses are in discussions with Keesler AFB to initiate a local Bike Share program on base. By providing Airmen with the availability of low-cost, environmentally friendly transportation, local businesses would see an increase in business as Airmen are able to more easily access off-base activities and businesses.
  • As part of a long-standing partnership that spans 30 years, Keesler AFB hosted the Special Olympics of Mississippi 2017 Summer Games. The event consisted of over 3,200 athletes, directors, coaches, families, and volunteers from across the state.