Some 150 Mississippi National Guardsmen prepare to board a 172nd Airlift Wing C-17 Globemaster aircraft for their 2017 flight to Washington, D.C. Credit: 2nd Lt. William T. Hill, JFH-MS Public Affairs

Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday announced two executive orders aimed at helping children of military families, and helping protect and expand the state’s military installations and supporting industries.

“As long as I am governor, Mississippi will do everything in our power to support our military members and their families,” Reeves said at a press conference, flanked by state military leaders.

One order Reeves signed creates the Military Star Schools Program, to help military family school children who have to frequently change schools when their parents receive new postings and who deal with other issues such as parents being away for deployments. Reeves said there are about 7,300 school-aged children of active duty military families in Mississippi.

Col. Cynthia Smith, commander of the 186th Air Refueling Wing at Key Field Air National Guard Base in Meridian, said that statistics show children in military families switch school six to nine times K-12. She said her family knows firsthand how difficult that can be for children and spouses of military members.

The new program, administered by the state Department of Education, would require schools to apply for the Military Star designation. The schools would have to designate a staff member as an ambassador to military families and maintain a web page on the school’s website with resources for military families. They would have to have peer-to-peer programs to help students coming in to the school and would have to offer training for staff on issues military children and their families face.

State Superintendent Carey Wright said many Mississippi schools already provide support to military families and she expects “our schools and districts will jump at the chance to join this program.”

Reeves also signed an order creating the Mississippi Defense Communities Development Council — overhauling a council that has worked for years to prevent military base closures in Mississippi during federal cutbacks and realignments.

Reeves appointed Tom Williams, president of the Meridian Airport Authority, to chair the new council. Williams said the new organization aims to be “proactive, rather than reactive” in expanding, improving and protecting the state’s military installations, which Williams said account for 6.5% of the state’s economy.

The MDCDC will be overseen by the Governor’s Office of Military Affairs in the Mississippi Development Authority, and each of the state’s 12 active duty, Guard or shipbuilding installations will be represented.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.