Mississippi Guard soldiers get a break before deployment

HATTIESBURG — Hundreds of Mississippi National Guard soldiers were off duty Wednesday for a few days with family and friends before shipping out to Iraq.

This will be the second deployment for many of the 3,200 Mississippians in the 155th Brigade Combat Team, which spent most of 2005 in Iraq during the largest deployment of Mississippi Guard soldiers since World War II. The brigade also includes soldiers from Kentucky, Ohio and Washington, D.C.

Several of the soldiers from Northeast Mississippi are seeing home time this week.

The soldiers mobilized in May and were sent to Camp Shelby for training. They were honored there Tuesday with a bittersweet deployment ceremony.

“I think it’s going to be fine,” said 25-year-old Sgt. Marieka Thompson, who will leave behind two young children. “I’m ready to go. It’s just going to be very emotional for me to leave them.”

Fortunately for her and the others, the 155th likely will spend less time in Iraq during this deployment.

Early in the Iraq war, deployments lasted a year from the time soldiers arrived in the Middle East, not including months of training, Guard officials have said. Now deployments last about a year from the date the unit is mobilized.

Hundreds of people turned out Tuesday for the send off at Camp Shelby, a base just south of Hattiesburg where tens of thousands of soldiers from across the country have trained for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The people of Mississippi are very proud of you and so are we,” Gov. Haley Barbour told the troops. “This unit has a long history of service to our nation and to our state.”

Maj. Gen. William L. Freeman Jr., adjutant general of the Mississippi National Guard, said the brigade, which includes soldiers from 51 Mississippi towns, is more than ready to serve.

“I know that when you go in harm’s way, you’ll make the right decision at the right time,” Freeman said.

The brigade’s mission is force protection, meaning they will be escorting convoys and guarding bases, among other things.

Fourteen Mississippi Guardsmen in the 155th died in the last deployment. More than a dozen others attached to the brigade from other states lost their lives.

The Associated Press