Citizen soldiers celebrate community connection with Biloxi

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS  (WLOX) - National Guard troops from the Mississippi Gulf Coast are busy preparing for a deployment to Iraq this summer.

Friday morning, those soldiers and their families gathered at the Biloxi armory for a special recognition ceremony.

In today's world, these so-called "citizen soldiers" are getting called on more often.

National Guard soldiers from Alpha Company First of the 155 infantry will soon be deployed to Iraq.

Friday they formalized an ongoing relationship.

"A relationship in which we, as soldiers, support our local elected leaders. Our city. And they in turn support us as individual citizens and as representatives of our state and nation's armed forces," said Capt. Richard Rowland.

The guard was called into disaster duty following Katrina.  These days, they're just as likely to be sent to Iraq, a place their commander warns is still dangerous despite the drawdown of troops.

"There's still a lot of hostile things going on as we speak. We know these guys. When they train to standard and go outside the wire, go in harm's way as we call it, they're going to make the right decisions at the right time," said Adjutant General William Freeman.

As Mayor A.J. Holloway and Captain Rowland signed the "community covenant of support" soldiers were thinking ahead to the long months of separation an overseas deployment requires.

"The wife and the kids. Being separated from them. Making sure they're safe back here," said guard member Frank Johnson.

His wife is equally concerned.

"Not having him to back me up with the kids. Having somebody on my side with the kids. It gets pretty rough," said Cecilia Johnson.

It's the first deployment for 20 year old Rion Gimes.

"You know, I'm going to have thoughts about my parents. But we've got a job to do and I've got to do it," said Gimes.

"I was kind of apprehensive when he first enlisted. But I'm proud of him and all the care they've given to him. I can see the concern and I really appreciate that," said his grandmother, Carolyn Adside.

The soldiers will train at Camp Shelby next month and head for Iraq in early June.

National Guard troops are being deployed to the Middle East in record numbers. And while there may be fewer citizen soldiers sent to Iraq as the military decreases its presence, it's likely even more National Guard troops will be sent to Afghanistan to support the military build-up there.

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