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As Mississippi National Guard members deploy to the Middle East, locals can provide support for their families

Local members of the Mississippi National Guard departed yesterday for a deployment to the Middle East.

Seventy guardsmen from the area who are part of the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team are traveling to Fort Bliss to train with First Army’s 177th Armored Brigade and complete a first-of-its-kind training to ensure they are prepared for decisive action operations during conflict. There will be over 4,000 soldiers from across the state participating in the 90-day training before shipping out for a 9-month deployment at the Central Command Theater based out of Kuwait.

This will be the unit’s third deployment to the Middle East since 2001. The “Dixie Thunder” brigade possesses expertise from deployments during Operations Iraqi Freedom III in 2004 to 2005 and OIF 9.2 in 2009 to 2010.

While these guardsmen are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country, the loved ones left behind are making sacrifices as well. However, they’re not alone. Mississippi National Guard Family Programs is one group that provides resources and support for soldiers and their families. Mississippi National Guard Family Programs employee Blenda Gann is no stranger to deployments.

“This is my husband’s third deployment, but it will be my first deployment as a spouse and as an employee of National Guard Family Programs,” Gann said. “I’ve been on the employee side as a mother of somebody that was deployed, and it’s two different feelings. I don’t know how I’m going to feel about it yet.”

Her husband is one of the soldiers who deployed yesterday, her son-in-law will be leaving at the end of the month and she said her son and nephew will most likely deploy as well sometime in the fall.

Mississippi Rep. Trent Kelly, who is also a brigadier general in the National Guard, said he is proud of those who deployed yesterday.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the soldiers and the families of the Dixie Thunder Brigade as they deploy to Central Command for a diverse mission set,” Brig. Gen. Kelly said. “The 155th BCT has a storied tradition and is well led, well trained, and well equipped to perform their duties. I am proud of the commitment these soldiers are making to this great nation.”

For those who want to help service members and their families, Gann said there are a variety of options.

“One opportunity is that people can donate to the Mississippi National Guard Family Relief Fund. What that fund does is help service members and their families in times of crisis,” she said. “For example, if a tornado hits and takes out a service member’s home while he’s overseas, this fund can step in where insurance doesn’t cover.”

She also said she encourages people to wear red on Fridays as part of the “Remember Everyone Deployed” movement.

Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce is also doing their part to help hometown heroes. Chamber president Jon Maynard and his team are currently working on a database for service members and their families to use when they need help.

“I grew up in a military family. My father spent two tours of duty in Vietnam and one in Korea.  The support that a family needs when their soldier is away extends beyond their family and friends,” Maynard said. “The chamber is one of the best resource facilitators around. We connect with the business community on a daily basis. If there is a soldier’s family that needs car repairs, home repairs, we will make the connection that the family needs. We owe these soldiers the piece of mind that their families will have what they need while they are out doing the difficult jobs that we ask them to do.”

Business owners who want to join the database can contact the Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce.

Margaret Coleman, First Sergeant Christopher Coleman’s wife, is the chairperson of the local Mississippi National Guard Family Readiness Group, and said her experiences help in the position. While her own children have all moved away from home, she said she relates to spouses at all phases of their journey, because she’s been there herself.

“Looking at the women who are pregnant and holding another child in their arms makes me realize there are so many levels to it,” she said. “Until you’re part of it, you don’t know what it’s like. That’s one of the reasons I took this position.”

Coleman said she’s experienced the kindness of the community first hand, especially when it came to saying goodbye to her husband as he deployed yesterday.

“Lisa Chandler, with WMU, came up to me and said she was going to help me get in touch with the Mississippi Baptist Convention. It’s like angels are everywhere,” Coleman said. “I’m amazed at how supportive every single person, even the hotel staff, has been. They were up at 11 last night helping us make ‘We love our soldiers’ signs. It just shows that this is God’s country.”

She also said the West Point High School baseball team came out to see the soldiers off, standing with the families and praying with her and the other wives.

For more information or to stay up-to-date with the Dixie Thunder brigade, follow their Facebook page, “155th Armored Brigade Combat Team.”

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