278th departing for Iraq
The parade grounds at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Miss., were filled with 3,300 Tennessee Army National Guardsmen at noon Friday when twice that many friends, relatives and American leaders saw them probably for the last time before deployment to Iraq.
"They released everyone for a four-day leave on the 31st of January," said Marshall County Commissioner Larry McKnight, executive director of the Tennessee National Guard Association, and father of two guardsmen assigned to Iraq. "They could go up to 150 miles from the camp, so everybody was spread out."
About 50 of the soldiers returned to Camp Shelby from Lewisburg in late December after Christmas leave. Their departure was by motor coach from the National Guard Armory at the intersection of Fayetteville Highway and Ellington Parkway.
Gov. Phil Bredesen and Congressmen Lincoln Davis, Marsha Blackburn and Zach Wamp attended, as did Maj. Gen. James Nuttall, deputy commanding general of the First Army of the U.S. Army, headquartered at Atlanta, Ga., McKnight reported. Nuttall noted that for many of the Tennesseans, their current deployment is their second to Iraq and that he is proud of them.
"Several things impressed me," McKnight said, first substantiating Nuttall's observation.
"A lot of these soldiers came back in 2006, but there are a lot of new soldiers and a lot of spouses with young children," the Marshall County commissioner said.
Another impression McKnight reported on Monday is the nature of a high-tech world.
While off base, he noticed that many of the soldiers went to so-called "big-box" stores and bought telephone jacks so they can call home through their computers that can download videos, music and games to fill down time. Cameras, CD players and other personal electronics are going overseas with the troops.
They are in sharp contrast with references in the language of soldiers.
"What were tents are now shelters," he said. "And they have square containers to remake into CHUs," also known as containerized housing units.
The number of the troops, friends and relatives proved to be a fact of their fast-paced life leading to the parade and presentation of colors at noon on Friday.
Windshield notes designated visitors as cleared for entry but, McKnight said, "There were so many coming in, we waited 90 minutes to get on the post."
Still, he and others were there in time for the parade with hardly 15 minutes to spare.
"The crowd swelled and, including the soldiers, there were at least 10,000 people there," McKnight said.
With so many troops going, McKnight's comment explains why it's impossible to say when the 278th Armored Cavalry will be deployed.
"They're taking off in increments, but they don't announce the timeline until after they're gone," McKnight said.