Mississippi National Guard Answers Call To Active Duty

More citizen soldiers are answering the call to serve their country.

The Mississippi National Guard is sending hundreds of troops overseas to support the ongoing war on terrorism and prepare for a likely conflict with Iraq.

Gulfport-based aviation repair specialists are among those being called to active duty.

Some 71 members of the Gulfport AVCRAD will be leaving early Thursday morning. They're headed first to Fort Drum, New York for up to two weeks of training. After that, they'll be going to a desert location overseas, probably Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.

They spent much of the day Wednesday loading gear and supplies. The 71 called to active duty include 32 who are full time members of the National Guard. The others have full time civilian jobs they'll be leaving for up to a year.

These guard members specialize in aviation repair and maintenance. Their call to active duty has been expected.

"We've had a heads up on this mission since before Thanksgiving. So, no, it's not a surprise. But the alert message and the warning messages are one thing. But the actual mode message is what hit about two weeks ago," said commander, Col. Gervis Parkerson.

The bags are packed and the 71 guard members are prepared to head out early Thursday morning. Colonel Parkerson says the training at Fort Drum will include nighttime practice at the weapons range wearing chemical suits.

"They're leaving in the morning at eight o'clock.  We'll have a charter jet to pick them up and we'll have all the families here to see them off.  And we'll start counting the days until we can get them home again," said Parkerson.

The commander says all the civilian employers have been most supportive and understanding of the call up.