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Keesler Airmen, Sailors, Marines rally to aid local community

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AETCNS) -- Capt. Robert Frees (right), 83rd Communications Squadron HAMMER ACE chief, assists fellow volunteers from the Marine Corps detachment here as they off load bottled water to a local supply distribution center during a humanitarian mission Sept. 3. Keesler volunteers delivered nearly 12,000 Meals Ready to Eat and more than 11,000 bottles of water to hurricane victims. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Dan Oberly)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AETCNS) -- Capt. Robert Frees (right), 83rd Communications Squadron HAMMER ACE chief, assists fellow volunteers from the Marine Corps detachment here as they off load bottled water to a local supply distribution center during a humanitarian mission Sept. 3. Keesler volunteers delivered nearly 12,000 Meals Ready to Eat and more than 11,000 bottles of water to hurricane victims. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Dan Oberly)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AETCNS) -- Atop a flatbed truck (from left), Senior Master Sgt. Darrell King, 83rd Communications Squadron, Langley AFB, Va., and Col. Paul Farkas, commander of Keesler's 85th Engineering and Installation Squadron, unload Meals Ready to Eat at a Biloxi, Miss., humanitarian aid station for Hurricane Katrina victims during a relief mission Sept. 3. Despite being impacted by the devastating storm themselves, dozens of Keesler's Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps members, including deployed troops, are welcoming the opportunity to show their support for their Mississippi Gulf Coast community neighbors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Dan Oberly)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AETCNS) -- Atop a flatbed truck (from left), Senior Master Sgt. Darrell King, 83rd Communications Squadron, Langley AFB, Va., and Col. Paul Farkas, commander of Keesler's 85th Engineering and Installation Squadron, unload Meals Ready to Eat at a Biloxi, Miss., humanitarian aid station for Hurricane Katrina victims during a relief mission Sept. 3. Despite being impacted by the devastating storm themselves, dozens of Keesler's Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps members, including deployed troops, are welcoming the opportunity to show their support for their Mississippi Gulf Coast community neighbors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Dan Oberly)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AETCNS) -- Military and civilian volunteers from Keesler Air Force Base are reaching out to help the local community after surviving and beginning recovery operations after Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29.

More than a dozen Air Force members from the 81st Training Wing here provided medical aid, food, water and ice Saturday to approximately 450 Biloxi, Miss., community members sheltered at Biloxi Junior High School.

"A Biloxi police officer came to the command post this morning to request immediate help," said Capt. Marion Mullinix, executive officer for the 81st Training Wing commander. "She said people in the shelters were getting sick from lack of sanitation and food."

The captain assembled a team of volunteers, including pediatricians, nurses, a chaplain and members of the 81st Services Squadron, which delivered nearly 500 Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), more than 1,400 bottles of water, and a truck load of ice and medical supplies, such as Pedialite, baby wipes and intravenous aid.

"Within two hours of her request, our team was at the school offloading the supplies and medical aid," Captain Mullinix said.

A second group of approximately 30 Keesler Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps personnel delivered more than 11,500 MREs and more than 10,000 bottles of water to two community distribution centers, where the volunteers then assisted American Red Cross and local authorities by distributing the supplies to the lines of cars awaiting the much-needed supplies.

"This was a huge task, but our military volunteers met the challenge and ensured the community knew Keesler is coming online and is helping out where it can," said Maj. Al Estes, 81st Communications Squadron commander and team lead. "It was a great feeling to see our military members reach out beyond our gates to assist families who were devastated by Hurricane Katrina."

According to Col. Douglas Hayner, 81st Training Wing vice commander, the humanitarian mission was yet one more example of Airmen, Sailors and Marines coming together to assist others in time of need.

"We're used to working with our sister services in deployed environments, but this was a little more special in that these folks are from different services and different parts of the country, and they don't normally work together, but they came together to help those outside our gates. Their selfless actions epitomize what it means to be an American, but also to be a military member," Colonel Hayner said. "This is what wearing the uniform is about - working together for a common goal, whether it's conducting combat operations abroad or supporting those who depend on us to assure their way of life."

According to the volunteers, the aid was graciously received by the countless victims who poured into the centers to get the supplies.

"It was emotional for both us and the victims," said Capt. Robert Frees, 83rd Communications Squadron HAMMER ACE chief. "I felt proud to be an Airman and an American, and it made me feel good that we have the ability to reach out and provide support to those in need. I was inspired by the strength of the volunteers, who pulled together in the shadow of this disaster to assist the local community despite our own operational missions. Some of the victims gave their thanks to the troops, but the looks in their eyes said so much more."

Although recovery operations are ongoing for Keesler, volunteers from the base are taking every opportunity to extend aid to the battered parts of the surrounding community, and as personnel continue to arrive and the base's infrastructure is rebuilt, the base can provide additional support to the local community.

"We're still trying to get our facilities up and running on the base, but these are just some of the things we are doing for our local community, which has done so much for us over the years," said Brig. Gen. William Lord, 81st TRW commander.
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