Military Tuition Assistance

As part of a tour of state military units, on Wednesday members of the Mississippi Veterans and Military Affairs Committee stopped in Meridian at the 186th Air Refueling Wing. The purpose of the tour was to learn more about state military needs. The committee serves as a liaison between the military and the state legislature.

Officials say when it comes to Mississippi's National Guard units primarily what the state provides is education or tuition assistance for those enlisted. Each year about $1.4 million in state funding is allotted for this. While this amount is not likely to decrease next year, committee members say its possible that it also might not increase.

"There's no doubt that the legislature, we're dedicated to education. There's no doubt that we're behind our guards people, but there's only so much pie that we can cut," says committee chairman, Senator Videt Carmichael from Meridian.

Meanwhile, officials with the 186th Air Refueling Wing say this type assistance is vital for operation. To meet the demands of the 186th officials say they need to recruit at least 100 new guardsmen and women each year. This is a quota which they say they've been able to meet thanks largely to things such as tuition assistance incentives.

"We see it as a major incentive, probably as many as 90 percent of the people that we sign up, So, it is crucial to our future not only at this unit but with National Guard units in the state," says Col. Erik Hearon who is the Wing Commander for the 186th Air Refueling Wing.

Meanwhile, committee members say they're optimistic about next year's funding for such assistance.

"The economy's turning around. I think it's looking better but we've got to make sure that we spend the money in the right places. These are a couple of things that we're always going to put at the top of the list," says Carmichael.

The 2005 legislative session will being in January.