City pledges Guard support

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The citizens of Brookhaven and Lincoln County have pledged tosupport the wives and children of National Guard soldiers deployingto Iraq this year, according to a covenant signed Tuesday byguardsmen and city leaders.

Dozens of guardsmen, including high-ranking officers, andseveral city leaders were on hand at Company E, 106th BrigadeSupport Battalion’s armory Tuesday to witness the covenant signing.The signing was meant to assure deploying guardsmen that theirwives and children would not be forgotten while they spend the nextyear on active duty.

“This will give the Family Readiness Group an avenue of approachduring our deployment,” Company E Capt. Shain Vice said at thesigning, which was attended by dozens of guardsmen and several cityleaders. “We’re not looking for anything monetary, just somethingto help them along the way.”

Approximately 80 of the 130 Company E soldiers are LincolnCounty natives, Vice said, and approximately 200 county soldiersare serving in units across the state.

Soldiers said their primary worry is not the dangers of a warzone, but the uncertainty of leaving their families behind. Theworry is especially great this time – the company’s seconddeployment to Iraq – as approximately 70 percent of Company Esoldiers are new and deploying for the first time, Vice said.

City Clerk Mike Jinks, who signed the covenant for the city,said it was important for Brookhaven to continue a long traditionof supporting its soldiers.

“I think we realize just how important they are in protecting usand the freedoms we have,” he said. “We need to be sure that wesupport our troops, not just when they’re leaving and when they’recoming back, but all the time.”

Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes said it was important forBrookhaven and Lincoln County residents to continue showing supportto its soldiers, as soldiers in the past have not always been shownthe respect owed to them.

“Thirty-five years ago, if people didn’t agree with the war,then they may have treated the people who went to war unfairly,”said Estes, whose father, brother and grandson have all served.”But we have strong feelings now about valuing our military,regardless of what our feelings are about the wars they fight in.It’s so important that we confirm to our soldiers and support themand their families.”

Guard leaders are expecting no trouble on the home front duringthe deployment, saying Brookhaven and other Southwest Mississippicommunities have a long history of unfailing support for theirsoldiers.

“It’s tremendous,” said Brookhaven’s Col. William Glasgow,commander of the 155th Brigade Combat Team, of which Company E is apart. “It’s just a patriotic community – there’s no apathy. We getthat kind of support from all our communities.”

Glasgow said approximately 3,300 soldiers from eight units willmake the deployment, which begins with a trip to Camp Shelby fortraining on April 13. The Guard will deploy to north-central Iraqfor active duty this summer until early 2010, when it is expectedto return home.

During the guard’s last deployment to Iskandariyah, nearBaghdad, in 2004-2005, Company E was assigned to patrols, sweepsand house-clearing. This time, Glasgow said, the unit will beassigned convoy security, taking it out of Iraqi neighborhoods andonto the highways.

“The biggest challenge is Iraq is entirely different than weleft it last time,” he said. “It’s an entirely different missionand we’ll have different rules of engagement. We share the roadwith Iraqis now – last time, when they saw us coming, they got outof the way.”

Glasgow said everything the unit does in Iraq will be inconjunction with Iraqi Army and police forces. Company E will gothrough language and negotiation training and employ translatorsonce in country, he said.

“If you can do one, you can do the other,” Glasgow said of themissions. “We’re a heavy combat unit. The training is the same; thephilosophy behind it is the same. That’s what makes the military sogood – we have good squads, so we can make good platoons and goodcompanies.”

Glasgow said Improvised Explosive Devices and other roadsidebombs would be the biggest threat to convoy duty, but guardsmenwill be better equipped to confront the threat during the comingdeployment. Company E will deploy MRAPs – Mine Resistant AmbushProtected vehicles that are thick and heavy with armor plating.

“We’ve all been through (IEDs), and, yeah – it’s scary,” Glasgowsaid. “But the vehicles we’ve got now protect us so muchbetter.”

Besides new equipment, Mississippi’s citizen soldiers are alsoleaning on the experience of veterans and tough training, saidMississippi National Guard Adjutant Maj. Gen. Bill Freeman, whoalso spoke at the covenant signing.

“You’ll find across the state that at least 50 percent of ourtroops are combat veterans,” Freeman said. “The good thing aboutthat is there’s a lot of vets that can coach the new people.”

Freeman also said soldiers’ personal commitment was astrengthening force of the Guard.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘Are we under strength?'” he said. “No,because Mississippi is very committed to serving. Per capita, we’reprobably in the top five – maybe top three – as far as the numberof soldiers. We’ve got almost 1,000 new recruits waiting to go totraining right now.”