BILOXI -- Keesler Air Force Base won $1 million April 5 and brought home to South Mississippi the Air Force 2013 Installation Excellence Award.
The base now competes with the top installations in each branch of the service as the Air Force's nominee for the 2013 Commander-in-Chief's Installation Excellence Award.
The award is given to promote innovative ways to enhance base services, facilities and quality of life.
Keesler hosted the selection committee in January and showed them how the base has tripled its recycling program, renovated dormitories and improved medical evaluations. Gas consumption was reduced by 42 percent with a fleet of hybrid vehicles and Keesler launched the command's first heat recovery energy program. They demonstrated the close ties to Biloxi and the support for Special Olympics, Relay for Life, Heart Walk and many other community events.
The base also turned on its Southern charm at a Mardi Gras breakfast.
Keesler edged out the runner-up, McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.
Eight units and 17 personnel from Keesler were singled out as "Special Recognition" winners.
Keesler can use the $1 million prize for quality of life improvements. Among the suggestions are expanding the gun range for off-duty use, adding a parking garage for the Back Bay Tower at Keesler Medical Center and building an indoor pool.
Keesler's accomplishment was praised from Biloxi to Washington.
"Obviously, if you're picked by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force as the top instal
lation, you can't get much higher than that," said Clark Griffith, a Biloxi councilman and three-star general who was commander at Keesler. He met with the selection committee when they visited Keesler and said, "This honor is well-deserved, especially considering what all of us on the Gulf Coast have gone through."
U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo said, "With today's announcement, the Air Force has rightfully recognized Keesler as the top installation in the country."
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, the ranking Republican on the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said he is impressed with the professionalism demonstrated at Keesler. "It would make sense for the Air Force to take note of this record of excellence as it considers mission assignments across different installations," he said.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Wright, 81st Mission Support Group deputy commander and project officer for the committee's visit to Keesler, said it isn't in a single area that Keesler stands out.
"Relentlessly, Team Keesler members come up with innovative processes to support our missions efficiently, effectively and economically," he said. The award is also a reflection on the base's relationship with Biloxi, he said.
"We're thankful for all the support we receive from our neighbors and we look forward to continuing this tradition of excellence for years to come."