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Installation Commanders Council

  • Published
  • By A. Danielle Thomas
  • Gulfport Combat Readiness Triaining Center
GULFPORT COMBAT READINESS TRAINING CENTER, Miss. -- An organization based on a partnership of military installations across Mississippi is working to improve the quality of life for all service members living in the state. The Installation Commanders Council is made up of the leadership from federal and state military installations. Over the past two years, conference calls and in-person meetings have helped Mississippi National Guard, reserve and active duty commanders develop stronger working relationships.

“The initial benefit of the ICC was to bring all the commanders together to understand who they are and what capabilities that they had,” said Col. Rick Weaver, Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center commander. “You now have an organization that is represented by every military installation commander in the state.”

In November, the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center served as the first Mississippi National Guard base to host an ICC meeting. Other locations include Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, the United States Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, and Columbus Air Force Base. Alternating locations helps everyone become familiar with each installation’s missions and capabilities. During the COVD-19 pandemic, that knowledge became a crucial component while seeking solutions to social distancing requirements. The ICC is credited for creating the connections that led to U.S. Air Force trainees from Keesler AFB conducting part of their Basic Training at Camp Shelby and for the U.S. Navy sending hundreds of Sailors to quarantine at the Gulfport CRTC.

“One of the benefits of being in the ICC is that when the Navy needed help for this, they knew who to call. We know each other well. They know what our capabilities are,” said Col. Berry McCormick, commander of the Gulfport CRTC. The organization has sparked new opportunities for different service branches to train jointly prior to working together on deployment.

“With some of these exercises like Southern Strike, we were able to utilize Naval Station Meridian and tie them back into it; which is a win-win for both sides,” said Weaver. “From our side, it gives us another capability to offer the units that are training. From their side, it gives them additional training from a Joint National Training accredited exercise that now they’re participating in. It gives the service member a better scope and throws in nuances that they’re not used to.” Another focus of the ICC is to carry the concerns of service members to the state government. Members hope by keeping elected officials informed about any hardships, they will more likely support policies that improve the quality of life of military members and their families.

“The Air Force is not unique in what our spouses and community needs. The Army and Navy communities need the same thing,” said Col. Heather Blackwell, 81st Training Wing commander. “When we partner together and set our joint priorities, then we can go to the governor with those joint priorities and it makes his job easier to support us.”

While Mississippi isn’t the only state to have an organization like the ICC, the U.S. Department of Defense State Liaison Office says the Magnolia State stands out. “The difference with [Mississippi’s] ICC is that they present a list which has a unified voice from all the installation commanders,” said Eric Sherman, southeast regional liaison, DOD SLO. “They take into concern our military quality of life issues as part of a list of mission requirements and not just nice-to-have issues.”

Commanders don’t only share ideas within the group on how to better serve service members, they also seek information from military-related organizations. Mississippi Veterans Affairs executive director Stacey Pickering is counted among the guest speakers.

"This intimate group of commanders from across Mississippi, we make sure they are aware of what resources we have that are available to their staff,” said Pickering. “We want to make sure we help file their claim. The state of Mississippi offers it at no charge to assist that veteran and their family to make sure they’re getting that disability benefit that they’re entitled to - their access to the VA Medical Center and/or any other benefit that they’ve earned as they’ve served our country.”