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Guarding The Environment

It was almost a regular Saturday afternoon at Kids Kingdom.

Little children ran and played through the playground, leavingtiny footprints in the deep, loose gravel.

Members of the Hamilton family arrived two at a time, gatheringfor a shower to welcome the clan’s newest member. Big kids ranwild, chasing after the little kids they were assigned to watchover.

Kids Kingdom functioned like it always does on a Saturday. Butthis time there was an extra group of people not usually foundaround swings and monkey bars – about 30 troops from theMississippi National Guard, armed with paintbrushes, rakes, garbagebags and whatever else they needed to give the park a good sprucingup.

“We’ve been serving abroad for the last year, and now we’re justserving the community,” said Staff Sgt. Benjamin Lowery, ofBrookhaven’s Detachment 1, Company C Recruit SustainmentProgram.

The Guard’s men and women warriors selected Kids Kingdom astheir project for Guard the Environment Week, a nationwide NationalGuard effort that will see more than 300 units pitch in to clean upparks, highways and other public places on the weekends of Oct.16-17 and Oct. 23-24.

Local Guardsmen worked with the Brookhaven Recreation Departmentto make the selection, ultimately settling on Kids Kingdom becauseof the high number of families who use it. Working all daySaturday, the soldiers painted, landscaped, raked, cleaned,trimmed, performed maintenance and checked the park’s features forsafety.

The work was not just a nice gesture, but also a trainingexercise in disguise. Maj. Johnny Waldrop, a recruiting andretention officer at state headquarters in Jackson, said suchcommunity projects served to ground Guardsmen in their statemission.

“The National Guard is the home team – we serve home,” Waldropsaid. “The intent is to build a tie to the community, todemonstrate to our soldiers that serving your community is one ofyour duties. Our soldiers live and work in these communities, andpart of being in the Guard is understanding that statemission.”

That mission applies both in and out of uniform, said Lt. Col.David Barton of Brandon, commander of the recruiting battalion.

“It’s an opportunity to teach these young warriors thatcommunity is a part of us,” he said.

The Guardsmen’s toils did not go unnoticed.

Brookhaven’s Danielle Hull was thrilled to see the soldiersfixing up Kids Kingdom, where she brings her 1-year-old daughter,Alissa, “at least once a week.”

“I didn’t know what was happening at first, but when I saw themcoming, it was awesome,” she said. “I didn’t think anyone was goingto fix this place up, but I’m glad to see the National Guard here.I’m going to go home and bake them a cake.”

Brookhaven’s Marti Hamilton often brings her 8-year-olddaughter, Ashlynn, to Kids Kingdom. And when baby Stryder is born,he’ll be playing in the purple-topped towers, too.

“Once I realized they were here to clean up, I thought, ‘Nowthat is amazing,'” she said. “Having been in a military family, Iknow soldiers do so much for us anyway, and doing the extra is justabove and beyond.”

Hamilton’s husband Thomas is an eight-year veteran of the U.S.Army, and he knows how important it can be for the Guardsmen topitch in on projects at home.

“If you don’t have community support, you don’t have anysupport,” he said.