GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The roar of jet engines may be over, but the lessons learned during the fifth annual Southern Strike will continue for years.
On Thursday, special guests gathered with active duty military and reservists at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center to say thanks for a job well done.
Lt. Col. Billy Murphy has been participating since the beginning. For him, planning is one thing, but seeing it in action is what he lives for.
"Actually, when we all get together, and that plan becomes and execution piece and everything goes off without a flaw like it has this year, that to me is the goal and the satisfying moment," Murphy said.
More than 2,000 service members - both active duty and reservists - took part in the combat exercise representing 80 units from 33 states.
Gov. Phil Bryant was among the dignitaries who spoke at the ceremony, noting that the event is the among the most advanced military training on the planet.
"They know it. They want to come back every year," he said. "This is going to save lives and protect freedom around the world, and it's all happening right here in Gulfport, Mississippi."
Senior Master Sgt. John Turner's expertise in maintenance afforded him a unique position to enjoy the training.
"What's cool about this is when you get here, you get to see it in motion," Turner said. "You get to see the back side of it. You know, it's like going to a show and you get to see what's going on back stage. In the maintenance area, it's all back stage."
Lt. Col. Jeff White says the huge growth is a good problem to have.
"I tell you what....exercise has become so popular that we're have to try to throttle it back," White said. "It's almost becoming a bit overwhelming from the planning perspective."
But, White says, there's no better opportunity to form early partnerships.
"This in the training environment. That is where you want to form these relationships as how you work together," White said. "You don't want the first time that you are working with another entity or another service to be when you're actually in combat."
More than 20 types of aircraft participated and flew more than 300 sorties. Training included counterinsurgency, enroute casualty care, and maritime special operations.