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Town says goodbye to troops — Monticello honors National Guard unit prior to deployment to Middle East

Blaze Bozeman gripped a small American flag and waved it furiously toward the Mississippi National Guard troops as they marched along Broad Street in Monticello Wednesday.

Balanced on the tailgate of his father’s pickup truck, he grabbed the larger flag, twice his height, and hoisted it up above his head as they passed in formation. Somewhere in the camouflaged group was another Bozeman — Blaze and his dad’s cousin Aaron, who will be heading to Fort Bliss, Texas, in two weeks with the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team. From there, the “Dixie Thunder” will scatter over nine countries in the Middle East for a year.

Ryan Bozeman checked the 6-year-old out of school for the troops’ 2 p.m. parade through town. He remembered his father doing the same thing when his uncle received a similar send-off for Operation Desert Storm.

“I want my little boy to know what’s going on,” he said.

Several hundred people attended the send-off for the 106th Brigade Support Battalion — part of the 155th that is headquartered in Monticello.

Georgia-Pacific’s catfish frying team fed the troops and their families at the armory at noon, then the battalion marched along Broad Street to a reception at the Lawrence County Courthouse lawn.

Mayor Martha Watts and the Monticello Board of Aldermen organized the send-off to show their support for the National Guard unit. The Lawrence County High School band played and the troops were led by the high school JROTC color guard. The Patriot Guard also participated in the parade. Lawrence County Miss Hospitality Miranda King welcomed the troops to the reception.

Col. Robert D. Ferguson, commander of the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team, spoke on behalf of the troops.

He said the brigade is made up of about 3,500 citizen soldiers serving in units throughout the state. For this deployment, they’re sending overseas 80 to 90 tanks, 130 armored transports and about 900 wheeled vehicles.

It’s the largest deployment of the Mississippi National Guard since Operation Torch in 1942, which was the allied invasion of North Africa.

Ferguson said he’s often asked if the Iraqi War, which began in 2003, is over.

“It’s never stopped,” he said. “We’re still at war.”

He nodded toward the men and women at attention on the front lawn, surrounded on three sides by their friends, families and supporters. He addressed the crowd.

“While you look at these soldiers and the sacrifices they’re about to make, don’t forget their families,” he said. “These guys make a sacrifice not everybody can make.”

Sgt. Joshua Reno will be putting his job as plant manager of M&M Milling in Brookhaven on hold for a year, but his biggest sacrifice will be leaving his wife, Kayla Beth, and their three children — Alec, 4; Hollis, 2; and 6-month-old Barrett.

“We’ve been doing a lot of praying,” he said.

He’s also been getting things ready for when he’ll be gone at the end of the month. He’s grateful that they have family on both sides who will be there to help with the boys. His mother and stepdad, Nancy and Robert Smith, are looking for a sturdy yellow ribbon to tie on one of the oak trees at their Brookhaven home. They bought their daughter-in-law a video camera to catch all the important moments Reno will miss.

Kayla Beth Reno said she’s planning to FaceTime and Skype her husband as often as possible. She said her cell phone will be on a loud ringer for the next year.

She’s going to become an expert behind the lens, “so he won’t miss them growing up.”