Thursday, January 6, 2005

Troop receives final send-off

Staff Writer

Holly Springs churches bid good-bye and good luck to the Holly Springs National Guard A Troop one final time at a dinner hosted in their honor at First Presbyterian Church.

Altogether about 50 guardsmen and their families turned out for a sit-down Christmas dinner of turkey, dressing, green beans, broccoli casserole, bread and sweets. And on top of that the families were treated to 30 gallon bags full of gifts for their children, thanks to the children of Marshall Academy who shopped for them by name.

The gifts were collected through the Toys for Children project at Marshall Academy.

Soldiers got a 10-day leave from Camp Shelby and returned to the South Mississippi camp on Sunday, January 2 or Monday, January 3, according to Sgt. Keary Jetton. About 150 guardsmen from the Hernando Unit were activated this year and began training at Camp Shelby August 1.

Jetton said the troops would fly directly to Kuwait in January, unpack their equipment and convoy to a camp in southern Baghdad, Iraq.

Fred Carlisle and Jane Callicutt helped organize the meal for families after receiving a call from Jetton’s wife, Dawn, that the families would like to have a celebration in Holly Springs.

Carlisle said he and Callicutt were among the first contacted about the dinner.

“We just kind of jumped in,” he said. “Dawn Jetton was the one that called me and I made a few phone calls and it started.

“The churches decided to help fund it and supply the site for it. They’re always helpful in that.”

Among the participating churches were First Presbyterian, First United Methodist Church, First Baptist and Christ Episcopal.

Troops and their families have gradually taken the steps to prepare themselves for deployment. This deployment will be the first for most of the men in A Troop, Jetton said.

Sgt. Kerry Williams said physical conditioning has been an important part of training. Troops have to get used to wearing a 30-pound flak jacket and with that a rifle and other items that bring the total outfit weight to between 60 and 70 pounds.

“It’s something to get used to,” he said.

Jetton said the troops have received the training they need and have all the equipment they will need.

Orders are cut for one year once they get to Iraq, he said.

The family support group and the support of the local community plays a key role in supporting the troops while they are deployed, he said.

He thanked Jimmy Porter, Richard Cash, Phil Baston, Becky Taylor and the seventh through 12th grades at Marshall Academy for helping provide for families before and after deployment.

“The kids asked for a list of names and we thought they would get a little stocking or a little candy. Look at all these gifts,” said Jetton.

“The gifts mean a lot because people are thinking about us,” said Paula Poff. “It’s nice of them to do it.”

She said the send-off meetings and dinners provided this year for the troops and their families help guard families know people are behind them.

Brandy Williams said the meetings help the kids get to know other kids with dads who are leaving.

“It helps just being around other kids who have a daddy and are going through the same thing,” she said. “It helps me too, to know other wives and know that I am not alone. It is having people to be with me throughout. We’ve been married for 11 years and this is our first experience going through this.”

Amber Poff, a teenager, expressed wonder and surprise at her gift bag.

“It is like they know what I like,” she said. Her gifts included body lotions, bath items and scented candles.

Mike Pasco called attention to people at home who helped families with home repairs and other needs while soldiers were away at training.

“The support group women worked together,” he said. “The men not going to be deployed are helping families at home. It means a lot to us.”

He mentioned Jimmy Porter, Johnny Brown, and Doug Sorrell.

“Folks like that, staying back behind working with our families, is really helping us a lot.”

Many of the wives said one of the most difficult things about their husbands being away is not having that help at home with the children.

Most of the men and their families associated with the National Guard A Troop in Holly Springs are having the first experience at deployment.

State Army National Guard Chaplain Truman Thompson of Holly Springs, scheduled to retire in June, said he regrets he is not allowed to go to the front with the troops. He provided words of wisdom from the Scriptures.

He reminded families of the churches’ commitment to pray for families and soldiers who ask for prayer while they are away.

Gideon Bibles were also available for families who wanted one.

Amid the busy and informal gathering, the soldiers’ children played in the snow outdoors that remained from the week’s ice storm. Small children raced about in the floor of the fellowship hall. And frequently heard were the voices of young toddlers calling out sweetly, Da Da, Da Da.

William Moore of Holly Springs spoke briefly about the necessity for war.

“I’ve been down this road,” he said. “It’s always a bumpy road. Some of you are saying, ‘Why in Iraq?’

“Let me tell you something - you’d rather be in Iraq than them here in Mississippi and a tank coming down Craft Street and it’s the other fellow’s. It is not pretty. They (soldiers) are better off over there than over here.”

Rev. Bruce McMillan provided prayer, asking for special blessings on the men and their families “who chose to serve our country far away where Your Son visited long ago to bring peace.

“Fill their hearts with peace of the Babe of Bethlehem ... and let that peace rest on their family ... and bring an end to war forever-more. Amen.”

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