• 73°

Thousands bid 155th farewell

Several hundred southwest Mississippi residents joineddignitaries and others from throughout the state at Camp ShelbyWednesday to send off the Army National Guard’s 155th BrigadeCombat Team.

The 155th BCT includes units from Brookhaven, Monticello,McComb, Natchez, Crystal Springs, Tylertown, Prentiss andelsewhere. The BCT is scheduled to deploy for “stability andsupport operations” in Iraq after the holidays.

An estimated 10,000 people attended the ceremony Wednesday,overflowing benches and roped-in areas, to see a family member orfriend assigned to one of the units.

Mississippi Adjutant General Howard Cross called the 155th BCT”watchmen on the wall of freedom” during his remarks to the troopsand promised them that 100 percent of their vehicles would havesome level of armor before they arrived in Iraq.

Capt. Tracy W. Matthews of Ocean Springs, company commander ofthe Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 155th InfantryBattalion, said not all of the unit’s vehicles are armored, but theArmy “was in the process of doing that” and he expected all theirvehicles to have at least a minimum of armor protection when theunit arrives in Iraq. The unit’s equipment has already been loadedaboard transports, and the BCT will catch up to it in-country, hesaid.

“That means you will be the first unit to go to Iraq with thataccouterment,” Cross said. “That means you are the best equipped.You are also the best trained. I know in my heart you are also thebest supported troops because you come from Mississippi. We will bewith you in spirit.”

Gov. Haley Barbour also lauded the troops and told them thestate was proud and grateful for their service. The BCT is thelargest unit in Mississippi, he said, and they are all patriots andheroes.

“Our children have men and women in the 155th that they can lookup to,” Barbour said.

Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck remarked that the state was grateful for theirmissing special moments, such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidaysand other times meant to be spent with families.

“You also serve,” she told the audience of family members andfriends. “And your sacrifices are also appreciated.”

Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, commanding general of the 1st Army,ignited the audience with his comments and roused them with shoutsof “We are ready to fight!”

“I’m proud of this unit. It’s the best (training) we’ve doneyet,” he said.

Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau,said when the Guard was first formed, it was made of blacksmiths,doctors, lawyers, teachers, clerks and reflected a small microcosmof America.

“I don’t think we have any blacksmiths here today, but we dohave doctors, lawyers, teachers and clerks. When you call out theGuard, you call out America,” he said.

Before the ceremony, Matthews said that the unit was ready forwhatever mission they are assigned and morale was high.

“Right now they’re ready for the Christmas holidays and to spendtime with their families, but we’ve had six months of intensivetraining and they feel like they’re ready to go,” he said.

Many of the soldiers were released following the ceremony on a10-day leave to spend the holidays with their families.