One of South Walton's own was named an Honorary Commander for Eglin Air Force Base this week.
The honor was bestowed on Mario Mardones during a ceremony Thursday afternoon at the Air Armament Museum on Eglin AF Base, along with 13 other community leaders from along the coast.
The Air Force developed the honorary program as a relations initiative to educate those with limited knowledge about the Air Force missions, customs and traditions. Individuals are selected as honorary commanders because of their positions or influence in the community and that they have the ability to foster awareness and public support for the base.
Mardones was assigned as the 96th Civil Engineer Squadron Honorary Commander under Maj. Eric Queddeng, 96th CES commander. The 96th Civil Engineer Group provides engineering forces to support global aerospace forces in peace and war. It operates, maintains, and protects the physical plant, infrastructure, facilities and systems, housing, and the environment and maintains the largest base in the Air Force -- 11.6 million square feet of physical plant and 3,256 facilities.
Mardones received his Honorary Commander status during a Change of Command Ceremony Thursday. During the ceremony, outgoing honorary commanders were celebrated and incoming honorary commanders were inducted into the program as official Team Eglin members.
Mardones was issued a badge and a base pass good for one year that allows him unescorted access to the installation.
During the year, Mardones will be invited to base events and helped to better understand why the base is in the area and what its purpose is, said Jasmine Porterfield of Team Eglin Public Affairs. Mardones will also have the opportunity to share with those on the base what he does in the community as a citizen and as general manager of Tommy Bahama Tropical Cafe, which is located at Grand Boulevard.
Porterfield said a call was issued for nominations and submissions last fall and of the ones received, they reviewed packages based on likeminded career paths, availability, and limited knowledge of the military. Mardones fit the bill and was then paired with the field engineer squadron.
"This is an annual event and is to harness a relationship between the military and the community," said Porterfield.
"Mario is most deserving," said Children In Crisis President Ken Hair. "He's just the kind of person they are looking for. The program is for community promotion through actual community civic leaders so they can learn more about challenges the military faces."
Hair served 29 years and retired as command chief of air education. Mardones has been involved with CIC through its annual White Sands Classic Charity Golf Tournament and has helped raise more than $100,000 for the organization.
"It's a great honor for me to be selected, and it's good for Tommy Bahama as well," said Mardones. "I'll get to be involved with the base and have a connection there. I was never in the military, so I feel even more fortunate."