Troops Prepare For Deployment At Camp Shelby

The bulk of the 6,500 National Guard and Reserve troops that will train at Camp Shelby are on their way to the Hattiesburg base. The guardsmen will prepare for deployment overseas while at Camp Shelby.

Camp Shelby has served as a mobilization center for every major U.S. conflict since World War II. In times of peace, Guard and Reserve training at Camp Shelby usually means one weekend a month, and two weeks in the summer.

Well, those days are over.

"Now we're staying here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and training is going to go on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," Public Affairs Officer Major Doril Sanders says.

Camp Shelby is now a Department of Defense Mobilization Center, and the personnel stationed here right now are being briefed on what that will entail for the summer of 2004.

"We have members of the 2678th Tennessee Regiment coming in. It's an armored Cav. Regiment and there's approximately 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers that are transitioning to Camp Shelby in the next several months," Sanders says.

Besides the stress related to combat training, Commanders are also addressing the stress placed on the families. Tanya Crawley's husband, John, handles the live ammo during training, but she takes some comfort in at least knowing where he'll be in the coming months.

"There's a lot a stress involved in it. They're very sad, very worried, very concerned about what's going on. Not knowing that once their loved ones are gone that they're ever going to see them again," Crawley says.

But the Crawleys, like all the families of citizen soldiers, know they aren't the first to face such uncertainty. Troops have mobilized at Camp Shelby for every major conflict since the first two World Wars, and though the faces of evil have changed, the resolve to answer America's call to arms has not.

"You can tell, since 9-11 there's been a change of heart as far as the spouses and the children. Because they're in full support of the soldiers that's in the families. You just see a big turn around. It's like we want to protect our freedom," Dixie Thornton says.

At the height of operation in 1943, Camp Shelby was home to more than 100,000 troops. The 760,000 acre spread makes Camp Shelby the largest military training facility in the world.

By: Don Culpepper