The military's impact on the coast community is hard to measure. The economic impact alone is more two billion dollars a year. But the relationship between the coast community and those who wear the uniform goes much deeper than dollar signs.
Frank Bermudez ran through his routine with the military color guard Monday morning. He couldn't wait to help post the colors in front of a packed convention center ballroom. The formal acknowledgment of support at the annual "Salute to the Military" reflects the kind of reaction he's getting on the street.
"I see it all the time. When I go to the grocery store or what not, I have people come up to me and say, 'Oh, thank you so much for what you're doing'," he said.
Coast leaders long ago recognized the contribution of multiple military bases. John McFarland has been involved with the annual event since its inception 26 years ago.
"It is still the biggest economic engine we have. And if you're involved in the community at all, if you have kids playing soccer, you belong to a church or a civic club, you can't not feel the presence of the military. Not only as joiners, but as leaders," said McFarland.
The commander of Keesler's 81st Training Group says community support for the troops is exceptional.
"One of the best I've seen in my 24 years of service. This community just embraces our military. And especially since we have so many young airmen here that are away from home. And they provide a lot of great things for them to do," said Col. Jesse Canaday.
Along with simply saying thank you to the men and women in uniform, the annual salute also provides a unique forum to send an important message to military leaders.
"To come here. See the area. See the relationship between the community and the military. And that's something we want them to have in the back of their mind every time they look at base expansions and base reductions," McFarland explained.
Show them a clear message that South Mississippi supports its troops.