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Tommy ‘Air’ Curtis serves his community of Vicksburg

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Tommy “Air” Curtis has played many active roles in the community starting with his days at Vicksburg High School as a three-sport athlete in football, basketball and track.

Today, his work and service is reflected throughout the city.

Curtis was born and raised in Vicksburg. When he was 10, his dad died in a car accident.

In the fifth grade, Curtis began playing football at the YMCA for the Redwood Rockets. Then, as Curtis was still trying to find his role as a football player at Vicksburg Junior High, he quickly showed his skills in track.

Curtis began finding his football role toward the end of his junior year at Vicksburg High School in 1996. During the summer before his senior year, Curtis participated in a lot of 7-on-7 tournaments, and he continued to work hard.

During his senior year, Curtis earned the name “Air” after Steve McNair, a football player he looked up to at the time. Curtis had a breakout season that year, throwing for 2,506 yards and 19 touchdowns in 1997, which would set a single-season record in Warren County.

“I had a great group of wide receivers,” he said.

Curtis had plenty of receivers to choose from, including Bunkie Perkins, Roderick Stirgus, Larry Wright, Greg James and Robert Williams. Curtis also mentioned his running back, Lester Martin, who had over a 1,000 yards rushing in addition to all the passing Vicksburg was doing.

Curtis went on to play football at Hinds Community College where he would play corner back alongside Fred Smoot, a future NFL player.

In his sophomore year at Hinds, Curtis suffered an injury, and he transferred to Delta State University where he would gain a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2003. He went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration from Ashford University, and a master’s of art and religion from Liberty University.

In 2004, Curtis joined the Vicksburg Police Department as a patrolman. Over the years, he has had many roles with the VPD, including school resource officer, juvenile investigator, internal affairs investigator, and as sergeant and head of the juvenile division where he is today while also assisting in adult criminal cases.

Curtis has always had a special place for youth in the community. He coached youth sports and helped out with Vicksburg Street Ball Program during the summer.

He is also an entrepreneur. Curtis is CEO at All Around Training, a workout facility in the Vicksburg Mall, where his wife, Rebecca Curtis, is his go-to person and wellness coach.

Curtis credits his wife and family, especially his mother, Elmira Curtis, and his faith in Jesus Christ, who he thanks the most for his success.

“You will only go as far as your education,” Curtis advises young athletes. “… Be a student before an athlete.”

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Jay Measells honors his fellow veterans

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Flags lined Mission 66 on Veterans Day. Inset Lt. Jay Measells. (photos by Ashley Sevier and courtesy Jay Measells)

People traveling on Mission 66 in Vicksburg Wednesday may have noticed the many American flags adorning the sidewalks along the shops, salons, and medical offices that populate the busy road.

People traveling the same route the previous night may have seen the man responsible for placing them there.

The man is Dr. Jay Measells, a dentist and owner of Jay Measells DMD. But before he was Dr. Measells, he was Lt. Measells, U.S. Navy, veteran.

In fact, he credits the Navy for helping him become the successful dentist he is today.

Measells joined the military May 16, 2005, during his second year of dental school.

“Military recruiters came by from time to time with the chance to finish dental school without owing a dime in student loans,” he said. “I thought that was a great idea, and I liked the movie ‘Top Gun,’ so I signed on the dotted line.”

Looking back now, he believes it was the greatest decision of his life.

Measells was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

“While there, I had the chance to work with some of the most talented dentists in every specialty,” he said, “and all the while I was treating the selfless and heroic men and women that comprise one branch of the greatest military in the world.”

Measells served during Operation Enduring Freedom, the global war on terrorism the U.S. launched Oct. 7, 2001, in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“During that time many of the active duty personnel were deployed multiple times. Some came home injured mentally, physically or both,” he said. “And then there were those who didn’t come home at all.”

Measells said he did little in comparison to many of the brave men and women who served, but he feels honored to have walked beside so many heroes.

Veterans Day, Nov. 11, reminds him of his favorite Bible verse, John 15:13. “Greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends”

As for the flags lining Mission 66, Measells said, “It’s just my small way to honor those who have, at one point, written a blank check to this country for an amount up to life.”

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Overton Randolph keeps the fire trucks rolling

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Overton Randolph is conducting the annual fire pump tests last week. (photo by David Day)

You wake up and smell smoke. You quickly walk through the house but can’t find the source, so you grab the kids and call 911. After a few minutes, you can hear the sirens in the distance, but they don’t seem to be getting any closer; the fire truck is broken down.

Overton Randolph’s job is to ensure that such a scenario never happens in Vicksburg. As the mechanic for the Vicksburg Fire Department, his role is to make certain that all in-service fire apparatus are maintained, keeping them in safe operating condition and ready for immediate response.

One of the things he does to keep the fleet operating is pressure testing the pumpers on the trucks.

Overton Randolph prepares to test Engine 8

Last week, Randolph performed annual pressure testing on each truck in the VFD’s fleet. Every truck was tested, including some with the ability to deliver up to 2,000 gallons of water per minute.

The oldest truck in the fleet, Reserve 2, failed its test early in the week. Randolph was able to make repairs, and now the truck actually delivers higher water pressure than it did in its test last year.

Chief Dancyk points out the pressure specs for Engine 8

Randolph has been with the Vicksburg Fire Department for 10 years. He attended Vicksburg High School and is now happily engaged.

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Those who keep us safe: Jeff Merritt

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Jeff Merritt (photo courtesy VPD)

With 27 years in law enforcement, Jeff Merritt comes from a long line of law enforcement officers.

“I had family that worked in Wildlife and Fishery for the state of Louisiana and the local Tensas Parish Sheriff’s Department,” Merrit said. “I’ve just always been around law enforcement.”

Merritt was born in Natchez, but was raised in the tiny town of St. Joseph, Louisiana, in Tensas Parish.

The family traits ran deep in Merritt in his choice to enter law enforcement. He graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, formerly Northeast Louisiana University, with a degree in criminal justice.

“When I graduated, I was doing little odd jobs around Monroe,” Merritt said. “My dad actually came across an ad in the Tensas Parish Newspaper that the Vicksburg Police Department was hiring. I applied and was hired.”

The department hired Merritt in 1993 and appointed him to the Narcotics Division in 1997 where he currently serves as lieutenant. His nearly three-decade career has revolved around one goal.

“I strive to get drugs off the streets,” Merritt said. “I know people think you arrest somebody today, somebody takes their place tomorrow, but you just feel like you’re making it a little better for society each arrest you make.”

One big arrest in Merritt’s career happened in 2015. A group of officers were recognized by the State of Mississippi for a yearlong drug investigation that involved the Vicksburg Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The investigation, which resulted in 23 arrests, netted Merritt the Top Cop award that year, but he stressed that his job can never be done alone.

“You can’t do this by yourself,” he said. “Everything I do, I do with a team. I can’t think of any drug arrest I’ve made that has not had other officers there with me. It’s a team effort, and you’re with your team pretty much more than you are with your family.”

Being away from family in a stressful job could cause some conflict, but Merritt seems to handle the stress well.

“It really doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I really don’t get stressed at work. The hours we work can interfere with family time, and you can miss out on a lot of things, but stress wise, I don’t think it causes me to be too stressed.”

Merritt went into detail how the hours of his jobs are very unpredictable.

“This past week we worked Monday and Tuesday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then the rest of the week we worked 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.,” he said.

Merritt has one adult daughter and is engaged. He said his fiance knows and accepts the crazy hours.

He said you have to have passion to be in law enforcement.

“You have to do it because it’s something you really want to do,” he said. “It’s not for the money, and with everything going on across the country these days you have to want to do it and do it the right way.”

Merritt has been nominated more than any other first responder in this story series. His passion and “by the book” mentality has separated him from the rest.

“I just try to do my job and treat everybody the same,” Merritt said. “To me it’s a job. It’s not personal. I do my job. I do it right. I do it fair, and I’m honest to everyone.” 

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