Celebrating Keesler's past and future: Cherish heritage, tradition of honor, legacy of valor

  • Published
  • By Col. Greg Touhill
  • 81st Training Wing commander
This past week was a great week where we celebrated the past as well as our future. As America's Airmen, we remain faithful to a proud heritage, a tradition of honor and a legacy of valor. At Keesler, we were treated to vivid reminders of those portions of our Airman's Creed with the visit of Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rod McKinley and the 37th anniversary celebration and reunion of our gospel service. 

Chief McKinley is the senior enlisted person in the Air Force and the principal adviser to the secretary of the Air Force and chief of staff on enlisted issues. During his short visit at Keesler, we showed Chief McKinley our training, medical and support facilities; discussed our operations and our future plans for the base; and showed him our permanent dormitories and plans for their replacement. This was an opportunity for our wing to show the top chief what a great base and great people we have here, and you delivered! 

Keesler Airmen ... military and civilian ... rolled up their sleeves to make sure that the base looked great. That extra care in making your facilities look sharp and polished made a huge positive impression, not only with the Chief, but with me and your peers. As I rode my bike around the base, I continually heard comments like, "We need to do this more often!" and "I'll bet our squadron's buildings look better than anyone else's!" Pride in yourself, pride in your workplace and pride in your unit is an award-winning recipe; it is an important part of our proud heritage. 

The visit was highlighted by a superb senior non-commissioned officer induction ceremony at the IP Resort and Casino Ballroom. Four hundred people came to celebrate the induction of 64 of the Air Force's newest master sergeants. This ceremony was significant in many ways and was faithful to our tradition of honor. It was a first-class event that reinforced the importance of the senior NCO in protecting the nation. Each of our inductees assumes new responsibilities and is expected to carry on the tradition of honor that makes our Air Force the best air, space, and cyberspace in world. Under the leadership of Chief Master Sgt. Alex Perry, 81st Training Wing's command chief, the team that organized and executed the evening's events hit a grand slam. 

Yet, while the wing was busy with Chief McKinley's visit to showcase our proud heritage and tradition of honor, others in the wing were celebrating the legacy of valor that makes our Air Force and our nation great. This past weekend we celebrated the 37th anniversary and reunion of our chapel's gospel service. I had the distinct honor to meet retired Chaplain (Col.) Robert Jemerson, the chaplain who founded the gospel service and learned about a special legacy of valor. 

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, American society was in a profound period of change and disruption. Race relations were tenuous and many folks were not treating their fellow Americans with dignity and respect. Young Chaplain Jemerson, a captain at the time, was assigned to Keesler, and for six months he was not given any responsibilities ... no preaching, no counseling, "no nothing." Rather than giving up, this young officer took the initiative and went where the Airmen were: the Airmen's Club, challenging them to games of pool. If he won, they went to church. The chaplain was a very good pool shark. 

Feedback from many of the Airmen indicated they were thirsty for a church service that reflected the values and culture of black Americans. At that time, the Air Force did not offer such spiritual options for our Airmen, so Chaplain Jemerson bravely went to his wing chaplain and suggested he create a "Soul Service" for everyone of all colors. The wing chaplain was skeptical, yet took a risk with the brave young captain. Now, 37 years later, Keesler enjoys the oldest, and best, gospel service in the Air Force. 

We are truly lucky to be a part of a team that is faithful to a proud heritage, a tradition of honor, and a legacy of valor.