Mississippi College Joins Clinton Salute to National Guard Troops
August 5, 2009American flags waved proudly amid a light summer breeze and drizzle as Mississippi College supporters joined a spirited Clinton send-off to 170 Mississippi National Guard troops.
Rolling by Clinton Parkway in four buses, the soldiers began their journey Wednesday for training at Camp Shelby before their deployment to war in Iraq. Once they arrive in Iraq, they will train Iraqi police to battle terrorists.
Hundreds of people lined the road outside the Baptist Healthplex and the crowds of Mississippians, young and old alike, saluted the parade of buses with soldiers aboard. Clinton police cars with their blue lights flashing and a team of motorcyclists joined the contingent near the MC campus.
MC's outpouring of support for the troops followed a Wednesday morning send-off program at Clinton High's auditorium that attracted 1,200 well-wishers, including family members. Clinton High's Attache' show choir performed with Jan Jefcoat-Reeves belting out "God Bless America" to close out the program. The threat of severe weather moved the morning event indoors from the Clinton High football field.
"I want to congratulate all of the people - this was a great demonstration of support by the people of Clinton," said Mississippi National Guard Adjutant General William F. Freeman moments before the soldiers streamed by on Clinton Parkway. The soldiers going to Iraq, including some deployed more than once, are from the 114th Military Police Company. Signs with messages like "God Bless the Troops" were held high.
Over the years, the 114th MP Company has deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom and for disaster relief during hurricanes Katrina and Gustav that battered the Gulf Coast region.
Brigadier General Phil Fisher, a Clintonian who was among the speakers at the program at Clinton High, said the heavy turnout was a great example of the MC partnership with the city of Clinton. He said he would like to see Mississippians take small U.S. flags to church every Sunday as a way to show their support for troops waging wars thousands of miles away in Iraq and Afghanistan.
With the additional 170 soldiers, Freeman estimates there are 3,900 Mississippi soldiers in harm's way overseas.
Today, there are a little more than 10,000 soldiers in the Mississippi Army National Guard and 2,576 others serving in the Mississippi Air National Guard.
Freeman said he appreciates the donations made to the 114th MP unit including puzzles, games, books, toothpaste, shaving cream, shampoo and other items to make their stay in Iraq more comfortable. MC faculty and staff and others in the Clinton community teamed up to make the donations in recent weeks. The Mississippi adjutant general said hopes the "care packages" continue coming in the months ahead.
The day had its share of sad moments, too. Family members in the parade of soldiers were visibly crying in their cars as they drove by the crowds on Clinton Parkway a few minutes before noon. One puzzled young child walked over to a Mississippi College staff member and quietly asked why she was tearing up.
Waving their flags, Larry and Debra Franklin drove from Pascagoula to see their son, Brandon Allday go off to war for the first time. The Pascagoula High graduate recently celebrated his 21st birthday, his parents noted while holding back their tears.
With Mississippi schools not in session until later this week, lots of young children from Clinton and surrounding communities lined the streets to salute the troops. The next stop for the National Guardsmen is 45 days of training at Camp Shelby south of Hattiesburg.
Clinton Mayor Rosemary Aultman, and a contingent of Mississippi College ROTC leaders were among others on hand for Wednesday's send-off.
The Military Police Corps is one of the youngest branches of the U.S. Army with the group officially established in September 1941 during World War II. Officials say its traditions of duty and service are unsurpassed in the nation's armed services. But soldiers have performed police duties since the time of the Revolutionary War.
Freeman says the summer's overseas deployment of 3,900 Mississippi soldiers in war zones overseas is the biggest since a deadly Hurricane Katrina slammed into Mississippi and Louisiana in August 2005.
Photo: Hundreds line Clinton Parkway near the MC campus to wave goodbye to the troops.