Air Force Association organizing locally

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
June 11, 2004
Organizers believe an effort to charter a Meridian chapter of the Air Force Association has a new sense of urgency with the upcoming 2005 round of military base closures.
The next round of BRAC, or base realignment and closure, will include Air and Army National Guard bases, as well as other military installations such as Naval Air Station Meridian. The Air Force Association, an independent non-profit organization, is a supportive link with the Air Force community, much like the Navy League focuses on the Navy.
Gibbens said he believes the national association "gives us a powerful lobby in Washington" and a local chapter will establish a new measure of community support for the 186th Air Refueling Wing of the Mississippi Air Guard, one of the bases that may be considered for closure.
Leonard R. Vernamonti of Clinton, a retired Air Force colonel and president of the Mississippi Air Force Association, said the role of the organization is three-pronged:
help educate the public on the need for air power as an essential element of national defense;
support the people of the Air Force with scholarship and recognition programs, such as awarding scholarships to help Air Force personnel or their spouses attending community college; and,
help prepare future Air Force personnel by recognizing outstanding teachers, particularly in K-12, who use sciences and math as a means of teaching aerospace technology-related courses.
Vernamonti said there are about 2,000 members of the Mississippi Air Force Association. About 40 East Mississippi residents are currently affiliated with the Central Mississippi Chapter of the Mississippi Air Force Association, headquartered in Jackson at the 172nd Airlift Wing. Other Mississippi chapters are located at Columbus Air Force Base and Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi.
Meridian was fortunate to be able to focus attention on NAS Meridian in the last BRAC round, he said. "Now they have to broaden their activity base because everything is on the table," he said.
Vernamonti said community support of military installations, their personnel and missions is important in the base closure process.
The Meridian effort may be rewarded this weekend, when the chapter's charter is discussed at the Mississippi Air Force Association's state convention, scheduled at the Eagle Ridge Conference Center at Hinds Community College in Raymond.

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