KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Twenty-three civic leaders were inducted into the Honorary Commander program here, Feb. 9, which joins military commanders and Gulf Coast leaders to enrich community partnerships.
For the first time, 2nd Air Force, the 403rd Wing and the 81st Training Wing merged their Honorary Commander Program’s induction ceremony.
“I’m really excited to be inducted into the program,” said Bryan Matthews, Department of Veterans Affairs Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System director. “There’s a lot of things that go on at Keesler that I’m not aware of and I view this as an opportunity for partnership and collaboration. As the director of the VA Medical Center we are neighbors and we share resources. We have staff that work in each other’s hospitals and it’s important we continue to work together and continue to build the relationships that we have.”
The 81st TRW first instituted the program in 2003 and the program has grown over time and today it encompasses 54 Honorary Commanders total, the largest the program has ever been. It has allowed civic and corporate leaders to gain insight into the base by working and building relationships with the Air Force and base personnel.
Honorary commanders act as ambassadors for the Air Force and the base community. They become actively involved with Keesler, share insight and experience by working with their paired military commander. Additionally, they have an opportunity to meet Airmen, witness the mission and events firsthand and identify community concerns.
Each honorary commander serves a single two-year term; Rob Calhoun, CEO of Merit Health, currently in his second year as an honorary commander said his partnership with Col Beatrice Dolihite, 81st Medical Group commander, was beneficial.
“It’s been great being partnered with Col. Dolihite,” said Calhoun. “We share ideas, best practices and things that work great at our hospital and theirs. We got tours of their facility and they’ve seen ours and it’s a really great collaboration and great partnership. I really enjoy the input back and forth.”
The two partners have worked closely together the past year and have experienced many benefits from being involved with the program.
“It has given us a great benefit of having some of our military personnel actually go work in their facilities to provide better currency for them and readiness skills,” said Dolihite. “Through the Honorary Commander program we’ve been able to build those partnerships with the community, especially with our partners and get everything we can out of this partnership.”