29th Annual Salute To The Military Draws Big Crowd

This week people all over the Coast are honoring those who serve and have served our country. It's all a part of Military Appreciation Week.

Tuesday night, hundreds gathered at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum for an event that's been going on for almost three decades.

"It started in the late 70s when our servicemen weren't treated as well as they should have been, and the folks here on the coast said. 'Well, that's not right,'" says Bob Coniglione, co-chair of the Salute to the Military.

Twenty-nine years ago, local leaders started the Salute to the Military to say 'thank you' to the troops. Now the event features a who's who of the military and state leaders who serve in Washington.

While there were plenty of headliners at Tuesday night's event, leaders say the ceremony is about those who are willing to serve on the front lines and the people who support them.

"One of the things that we say is that we recruit airman and marines and sailors, but we retain their families. They have to feel comfortable where they are living. They have to feel that they are being supported by the community," says Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter.

Winter was the featured guest speaker at this year's event. He says this is his first time coming to the ceremony, but he's no stranger to the coast.

"There are more units for more services and more service members here than just about any other area, and it's great being in an area that supports the military so well," Winter said.

The message of gratitude is what Dr. Winter wanted everyone to remember about this year's ceremony. It's a message one 13 year servicewoman says she will never forget.

"I appreciate it because they know that the work that we are doing, even though some of us might be homeported here, they still realize that we have brothers and sisters out there serving and fighting in our war. And I think it just shows that they really appreciate us being here, and it's just a way for them to thank us, and it means a lot to me," says Teresa Richardson.

The U.S. Navy secretary also visited Ingalls Shipyard. He told WLOX that he is impressed with how the shipyard is recovering after Hurricane Katrina.