Local Guardsmen released from oil spill response duty

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - By Jessica Bowman – email

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The Mississippi National Guard is pulling out troops assisting with the oil spill response operations. More than 50 percent of the troops will be leaving the coast throughout the next several weeks. While some soldiers will leave for their home several hours away, others will only be traveling a short distance, because the Gulf Coast is their home.

In the beginning 300 National Guardsmen played critical roles assisting with oil spill response operations. That number slowly dwindles down.

Staff Sgt. Charles Koewers said, "Was the oil gets cleaned up it becomes less of a foot print. Are foot print becomes smaller, too. As the oil's cleaned up it's time to scale down."

As guardsmen from all around the magnolia state prepare to leave the coast some will stay because this is their home.

Lt. Col. Henry Cook said, "I am from Latimer. A small community in West Jackson County."

Staff Sgt. Charles Koewers said, "I'm from Gulfport."

Staff Sgt. Charles Koewers began his duties on the Vessels of Opportunity program directing numerous boats on where to find oil. He said seeing this first hand was pretty heart wrenching.

"At first it was, it was pretty devastating," said Koewers.

That devastation was also seen through the eyes of Lt. Col. Henry Cook. He has lived on the coast his entire life and wanted to do everything in his power to make his home a better place.

"Where do we anticipate oil being and we look at that and try and have an educated guess and try and figure out where we're going to need our forces," said Cook.

Commander of Joint Task Force Vigilant Horizon Colonel Lee Smithson helped missions run smoothly.

Col. Lee Smithson said, "Having soldiers and airmen from the local community, they have a vested interest in making sure the job was done right and done right the first time."

Col. Smithson believes each and every Guardsmen played an important role, but this operation really touched the hearts and lives of those from here.

"It was really amazing to see the level of commitment these men and women had towards getting the oil cleaned up. Because it's their Mississippi, it's their coast. Nothing can keep these guys down and their commitment was second to none," said Col. Smithson.

Soldiers said although the oil did make it ashore they believe the coast will rebound like never before.

"We're going to get our shrimp boats out there and bring our harvest in," said Lt. Col. Cook.

Staff Sgt. Koewers said, "In the scheme of everything it's made me feel good that I had an impact on it."

According to Col. Smithson 75 percent of the National Guard will be withdrawn from their duties with the oil spill by August 13th.

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