BY LYDIA HAILMAN
TUPELO – About 600 tearful families and friends gathered to say good-bye to the National Guard's 155th at a send-off Friday morning.
The 155th Separate Armored Brigade's 250 soldiers were at the BancorpSouth Center for the ceremony. The troops will join more soldiers at Camp Shelby, where they'll undergo three to four months of training, followed by desert training at Fort Irwin in California.
They should deploy for Iraq about Jan. 1, according to 1st Sgt. William Harrison.
The ceremony included U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, R-Tupelo, who described the troops as “the next greatest generation.”
“This is a tremendous outpouring of community support, followed by a great deal of prayer,” Wicker said.
JAG Officer Leslie Southwick, on leave as a judge for the Mississippi Court of Appeals, called for support of the troops' families.
“We're in a long line of soldiers called by our country to do our duty,” Southwick said.
Tupelo Mayor Larry Otis remembered when he was 4 years old, and his father left for World War II.
“We'll be right here when you come back,” Otis told the troops.
Alice Tillie of Pope was there to see her son-in-law, Troy Moses, who left for an 18-month tour.
“He's worried that his 22-month-old baby will forget who he is,” said Tillie.
One soldier, Markus Wise, had 18 family members by his side. He was married on May 8, the day he found out he was being activated.
Platoon Sgt. Robert Hamilton, who is also a pastor in his hometown of Columbus, described Friday as an emotional day.
“We have some hard training ahead,” Hamilton said. “I just want to do my job.”
Hamilton served with his father in the 1991 Gulf War and now has a younger brother who is activated in the Marines.
Medic Pam Fields, leaving for a second round of active duty, found it difficult to say goodbye to her two children.
“But I've got a job to do,” Fields explained.
A Vietnam veteran, Raymond Lochridge, was on hand to support the departing troops.
“I'm behind them,” he said. “It's a lot of sacrifice and also a hardship financially on the families.”
Carmetrius Willingham of the Senatobia unit also was deployed Friday, and even though his relatives couldn't attend the farewell in Tupelo, he expected his fellow soldiers to provide some comfort and security.
“By the time we get there,” Williams said, “we'll all be like family.”
Contact Lydia Hailman at 678-1583. Her e-mail is email@example.com