The importance of the Mississippi National Guard has always been understood by state employers, but with multiple deployments in recent years Guard members’ role has expanded. U.S. wars in the Middle East have meant longer and more deployments by Guard members to augment the regular Army. As valuable members of the work force, these citizen soldiers play dual roles.
According to figures released by Lt. Christian Patterson, director of public affairs with the Mississippi Military Department in Jackson, there are currently 12,500 soldiers and airmen within the ranks of the Mississippi National Guard. “Of that figure, approximately 470 are for duty both stateside and abroad,” he said. “Since 2002, approximately 20,000 Magnolia Soldiers and Airmen have deployed in support of military contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Units currently deployed include the following:
» 1108th Aviation Group, based in Gulfport — Kuwait
» 185th Aviation Brigade, based in Jackson — Kuwait
» 2nd Battalion, 185th Aviation Regiment, based in Southaven — Kuwait
» Headquarters Detachment, based in 298th Support Battalion, Philadelphia — Kuwait/Qatar/Germany
» Detachment 1, Company B, 834th Support Battalion, based in Tupelo — Kuwait
“The role of our members hasn’t changed; we still have state and federal missions, such as natural and manmade disasters in Mississippi, and we respond to the President’s missions,” Maj. Gen. Augustus L. Collins said. “But the frequency of being called and then being called back has increased. For 14 years now our service people have been called to go overseas to war. A number of our units used to go once, come home and it was over. Now there is an established rotation for Guard members because of the thinness of active duty members and the length of the wars.”
Collins and Maj. Johnny Waldrop of the Family Programs Office emphasize the stress to Guard members, their families, employers and the entire nation caused by these long wars.
“Families must deal with a lot, and so do our employers,” Collins said, “but fortunately in Mississippi we have patriotic employers who understand. We have employers who go out of their way to help our members.”
Just as there’s an office to assist families, the National Guard also has an office that works with employers as well as with members who need jobs. Some employers call with specific job requests.
Waldrop says the state’s employers have been gracious and helpful. “Our office is in daily contact with employers to help increase their understanding of our mission,” he said. “Employers have seen the value of employing Guard members because Guardsmen are drug free, work hard and arrive on time.”
Collins explains that for most Guardsmen the traditional training remains the same — one weekend on duty each month and two weeks of camp every summer. “However, most members do more than that because they have specific schools and unit training,” he said. “Extra days of training are authorized after units are mobilized and before they’re deployed.”
With 34 years of personal service, Collins knows about good Guardsmen. “The soldiers and airmen we have are the finest you’ll find anywhere,” he said. “They understand they must be prepared and respond when the call comes.”
Waldrop works with families of deployed Guardsmen. “Any time the bread winner is gone, it’s hard on families,” he said. “Our families have learned to adapt and be resilient. It’s not rosy but it works out.”
Programs for adults and youth include a session at Camp Shelby for children and a strong marriage enrichment program for adults.
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