Friday, November 12, 2004
By RAIN SMITH
CAMP SHELBY, Miss. - Framed between the soggy grass of the Camp Shelby parade field and an overcast, gray Mississippi sky, the 278th Regimental Combat Team performs its "Pass in Review."
All of the more than 4,000 soldiers in the 278th RCT - 3,200 of whom are members of the Tennessee National Guard - are in rectangular-shaped formations as they pass Col. Dennis Adams, commander of the 278th RCT.
The Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Squadron of the 278th based in Kingsport, approach a saluting Adams and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen. Over their heart each wears the "Global War on Terrorism" medal just issued to them.
The unit, 271 soldiers strong, marches through puddles from a shower the night before, oblivious to the water splashing up their legs and drenching the bottom of their desert fatigues. Hands remain at their sides, but all sets of eyes are focused to the right as they pass their superiors. The gesture is to thank them for their respect, as well as show their own.
This is a ceremony for the largest deployment of Tennessee National Guard soldiers since World War II. Within days, the advanced detachments will begin flying into Kuwait before heading north to Iraq.
This is also the first "Pass and Review" ceremony held at Camp Shelby in over a decade. Along with the Tennessee National Guard, soldiers from Wisconsin, Texas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont and New York complete the 278th RCT.
Camp Shelby Public Information Officer Maj. Doril Sanders said the ceremony is an honor for the soldiers, just as it was an honor for Camp Shelby to train them.
"It's a ceremony to send these soldiers off in a positive fashion and show these soldiers we appreciate them coming and training here," Sanders said. "The next stop for them, basically, is to go to Iraq in the next few days."
That next stop has been a focal point of the estimated 6,000 family members on hand for the ceremony. Before it began, Sgt. Joseph Bolden of Kingsport carried his 20-month-old son around the 2/278th's barracks. He is the youngest of Bolden's five children. Bolden's wife, Tonya, follows a few yards behind, struggling to cope with this day she has dreaded since the unit began training at Camp Shelby in June.
"I've mainly been dreading it, hoping something would happen where they wouldn't have to go," she said. "I know that won't happen. So I've mostly been praying they all make it back safe."
Bolden, a full-time military man, was deployed during Desert Storm. But this time, with the 278th 2nd Squadron, it's different.
"Now I've got two worlds instead of one. I've got the civilian side with my family, which means the world to me, and the military side," Bolden said. "I don't mind doing it - that's what I'm paid to do, no questions asked."
Cpl. Aaron Lawson isn't asking any questions, either. The Kingsport native, now a deputy with the Buncombe County Sheriff's department outside Asheville, N.C., has nothing but trust in his brothers in the 2/278th.
"I'm fixing to put my life in the hands of other soldiers and them the same with me," Lawson said. "We're going to do everything we can to get the job done and get our folks home."
Sgt. Mark Salyers of Kingsport said it can be difficult not to start looking ahead and imagining returning home from Iraq.
"I think everybody's pretty much ready to get over there, get it started, get it over with, and get back home," he said. "The sooner we get started, the sooner we get home."
Before the ceremony began Thursday, Bredesen said the 278th's National Guard units are what our forefathers had envisioned for the United States military.
"These people are willing to step aside from their careers and go out and defend our country," he said. "I couldn't be more proud to be here today, and I know they're going to do a great job."
The 278th RCT commander, Adams, told the crowd their soldiers had endured an intense five months, cramming in 10 years worth of National Guard training.
"The president has called them into Iraq at a dangerous time," Adams said. "Terrorists began this war, and we'll be glad to finish it. You have the cunning, equipment and talents to win in Iraq."
Cpt. William D. Jessie, commanding officer of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop 2/278th based in Kingsport, said Thursday's send-off ceremony was more for the families and politicians than his troops. However, he hopes the importance and peril of their mission resonates beyond the Camp Shelby parade field and into Northeast Tennessee.
The 278th RCT is expected to be deployed along the Iraq/Iran border.
"Every prayer you can send up is what we're going to need," he asks of the community back home. "Every single one of them."
Though Jessie said he has marked Mississippi off his vacation list following the training at Camp Shelby, he admits the maturing his unit has undergone while stationed there is remarkable.
"I've seen young men and older guys kind of jell where they can physically and mentally handle it," Jessie said. "It's just a tremendous blend, and I'm really pleased with how the guys have come together. It's like baking the perfect cake."
Story Copyright to Kingsport Times-News