Located along the Gulf Coast in Biloxi, Mississippi, is Keesler Air Force Base. Home of the 2nd Air Force and the 81st Training Wing of the Air Education and Training Command, Keesler specializes in ground trade training and offers high-quality technical schools to support the U.S. Air Force and our allies.
Here, we’ll go over a brief history of Keesler Air Force Base and offer more information about being stationed at Keesler or visiting the base.
History of Keesler Air Force Base
The history of Keesler Air Force Base begins with city officials in Biloxi. In January 1941, they invited the United States Army to build a base in their city to help support the World War II training effort.
The Army accepted the invitation and the Army Air Corps Station No. 8 Aviation Mechanics School was opened on June 12, 1941. Within a few months, the base was renamed Keesler Army Airfield in honor of the second lieutenant Samuel Reeves Keesler, Jr. who was a distinguished aerial observer from Mississippi who was killed in France during World War I.
At that time, the construction of this Army Airfield was the most expensive government project to ever be attempted in Mississippi. Originally, Congress approved a budget of $6 million for construction and $2 million for equipment. By April 1941, the cost had risen to $9.6 million and the final price tag landed at $10 million.
Starting in August 1941, Keesler Army Airfield was a technical training center and where Army recruits would complete Army basic training. With the influx of military service members moving to Biloxi, it stimulated the Mississippi economy and a lot of residential and commercial construction.
Until 1944, Keesler specialized in Consolidated B-24 Liberator maintenance and was also the training grounds for the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American military pilots who served in World War II.
After World War II, Keesler was no longer an Army basic training center as the number of recruits went down significantly.
Later, threats of the Cold War became more imminent and the Radar School was established at Keesler in May 1947 and its name was officially changed to Keesler Air Force Base on January 13, 1948.
In 1949, the Radio Operations School was also transferred to Keesler and by 1956, Keesler was participating in the “missile age,” creating a program for the Atlas missile.
Although recruit numbers were declining, especially after the Vietnam War, Keesler remained the largest airborne training facility through the 1970s. This facility called the Air Force School of Applied Aerospace Sciences was eventually closed on April 1, 1977, to be replaced by the 3300th Technical Training Wing.
As the Cold War era came to a close and the military approached the 21st century, budget cuts required a lot of consolidation and unit relocations. The Air Force specifically went through a lot of restructuring during the 1990s and then, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast.
Keesler sustained a direct hit from what was, at the time of landfall, a Category 3 hurricane. Nonessential personnel and aircraft were evacuated but Keesler Air Force Base still sustained “drastic damages” due to the storm with about 50% of the base submerged underwater.
Stationed at Keesler Air Force Base
At any given time, Keesler Air Force Base is home to an average of 4,700 students. If you’re stationed at Keesler, you’ll be living on the Gulf Coast receiving most of your training in electronics working with meteorology, radar, air traffic control, and more.
Keesler Air Force Base is now also home to the 81st Medical Group which is the second-largest medical center in the Air Force. If stationed here, you might also be working with service members from the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps as the Center for Naval Technical Training Unit is also located at Keesler.
When living on Keesler Air Force Base, you’ll have access to all the amenities you might expect from a military base including a chapel, medical facilities, and family advocacy offices.
You’ll also be close to Biloxi beach where you can spend time on your days off and the classic Southern hospitality that can only be provided in the deep South.
Visiting Keesler Air Force Base
As for touring Keesler Air Force Base, it is offered but not for average visitors. Public access to Keesler is limited to special events, scheduled tours, and sponsored visits and due to security requirements, individual tours are not supported.
However, group tours are available for local civic groups and organizations, schools, and youth groups. For schools and youth groups, the most appropriate age for base tours are high school juniors and seniors. Tours can be for groups anywhere from 25 to 40 people and are responsible for their own transportation.
Base tours should be booked three to four weeks in advance and are granted on a first-come-first-served basis. The tours last two to three hours and are unavailable on weekends, holidays, and non-training Fridays.
As for local things to do around Keesler Air Force Base, some favorites include:
- Gulf Island National Seashore
- Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum
- Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art
- Shaggy’s Biloxi Beach
- Stacked Grill
- Mary Mahoney’s Old French House
- Half Shell Oyster House
- Edgewater Mall
- The Grand Theatre
Whether you’re visiting family members who are stationed at Keesler Air Force base or you’re temporarily stationed in the area, there are a variety of lodging options that fit any price range or taste. You’ll also be nearby some local casinos and only a few hours drive from New Orleans and the tourist cities of the Florida Gulf Coast.
Keesler Air Force Base, with its long history and constant evolution, is a place where airmen learn and grow. It might not be the most glamorous base at which to be stationed, but it’s home to many service members and their families offering a quiet military lifestyle.
For more information about Keesler Air Force Base, visit their website at keesler.af.mil or talk to your superior about how to learn more.