Mississippi National Guard Soldiers Return From Iraq - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

02/18/05

Mississippi National Guard Soldiers Return From Iraq

One of the first Mississippi National Guard units to deploy overseas is back home following a year of duty in Iraq.

Members of the Greenville-based 114th Army Liaison Team wrapped up their de-mobilization at Camp Shelby Friday.

The group's assignment in Iraq included making improvements at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison facility.

"Yeah, I'm glad to be back," said Commander George Irvin, as he leads his National Guard troops through the medical checks that are part of the demobilization process.

The commander says the troops get high marks for their service overseas.

"Outstanding service. And the most important thing as me the commander, we did bring them all back safely. That's, everything else is secondary as far as I'm concerned. Because all the soldiers came back safely," he said.

The soldiers survived more than 250 close mortar and rocket propelled grenade attacks. They also endured the heavy scrutiny of doing cleanup duty at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. The 114th took command of the prison on the heels of the abuse scandal.

"There was the physical clean up as well as the moral clean up of just saying, let's get that behind us and move on. Let's show the world what the American people and American Army can do to correct a situation rather than just trying to cover it up," said guardsman Kelly Payson.

Greg Crosby of Gulfport spent most of his deployment assigned to Abu Ghraib. He says many Americans may not realize the deplorable condition of that facility. Before U-S forces arrived, Iraqi prisoners had been turned loose and the place was used as a local dump.

"When American forces moved in, they decided to use it as a detainee facility. And it was a nightmare. So we're surrounded by unfriendlies, trying to maintain a secure environment. We're trying to keep people in and keep people out at the same time," Crosby explained.

Members of the 114th got high praise from the military for making improvements at Abu Ghraib. They're most excited about their next assignment: Reuniting with family and friends at home.

The 114th had 23 of its 25 members deployed to Iraq. Although now based in Greenville, the unit was formerly headquartered in Hattiesburg, and still includes several soliders from South Mississippi.

By Steve Phillips

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