155th soldiers see travel limits lifted

Published 5:00 am Friday, October 15, 2004

Travel and leave restrictions placed upon soldiers in the ArmyNational Guard’s 155th Brigade Combat Team at Camp Shelby werelifted Thursday.

Soldiers and relatives of those serving with the 155th BCT,which includes local units from Brookhaven, Monticello, Natchez,Tylertown, Crystal Springs and Prentiss, complained loudly when therestrictions were issued earlier this week.

The order restricted all members of the 155th BCT to base,prohibited soldiers to drive private vehicles and was thought tohave canceled all leaves and passes. The order was levied againstthe approximately 3,500 soldiers of the 155th only and did notapply to any of the other units stationed at Camp Shelby.

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Ollie Akmenkalns of Brookhaven, whose son is a member of CCompany of the 106th Support Battalion of the 155th BCT, said the CCompany commander called him Thursday and said the uproar resultedfrom a misunderstanding between the command element and thetroops.

“He gave me a personal apology and said the cancellation of theChristmas leave was misinterpreted by the soldiers because when theannouncement was made there was a barrage of questions from thesoldiers and the impression given then was that all leaves had beencanceled. That wasn’t true,” Akmenkalns said.

Col. Leon Collins, brigade commander of the 155th BCT, said therestriction had not applied to all leaves and passes, but was putin place temporarily to allow Army officers time to enact somesafety measures. A Christmas leave had never been restricted.

Since the brigade arrived at Camp Shelby in mid-August, Collinssaid, two soldiers had been killed and several others injured ineight vehicle crashes off post. There were two accidents last week,one of which resulted in a soldier’s death, he said.

“That caused us to put a stop to all use of privately ownedvehicles (POVs) until we could assess our policy,” Collins said.”The reason it was done was for their safety. Now, the soldiershave access to their POVs again with the battalion commander’sapproval when they’re not in training.”

The brigade has added some safety considerations to theirpolicy, however, rather than returning to the free use of POVspreviously authorized.

Included among them is a risk assessment of the soldier made bythe battalion commander that gauges the amount of intensivetraining the soldier has received in the past 24 days and a vehicleinspection prior to departing the base.

“It’s all based on a formula,” Collins said. “It includes theamount of training the soldier has received in the past 24 hoursand the length of the drive to their destination. We don’t needsoldiers tired from training trying to make a long drive home.They’ll have to stay overnight and get a good night’s sleep beforewe’ll allow them to leave.”

The battalion commander has always had to approve any leaves orabsences, Collins said.

The granting of leaves and passes to soldiers of the BCT is aspecial privilege the brigade had to request the commanding generalof the 1st Army, he said. Camp Shelby was only opened as aMobilization Training Center last year and the 155th BCT is thefirst large unit of Mississippi troops to use it for training priorto mobilization to Iraq.

“We were granted an exception to allow our soldiers more timewith their families since they were so close,” Collins said. “Inthe past, we’ve been in another state and this situation wasn’tpossible because they couldn’t return home on weekends or holidays.We were really given some privileges other soldiers don’t get.”

“This was not an attempt to take anything away from a soldier,but to safeguard him,” he added.

Akmenkalns said he was glad it was a misunderstanding.

“The soldiers have kids, parents, husbands or wives and it wouldnot have been right for them be out of touch with their familiesuntil they got back from their overseas deployment, especially whenthey are so close,” he said. “I would have been unacceptable.”

The army agreed, Collins said, adding that morale was animportant element in unit readiness and family visits are a greatmorale booster.