Volunteers at the Ready

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The Mississippi State Guard is and all-volunteer organization that helps to fill the void left by the activation of the state's National Guard units.

Most people are familiar with the Army and Air National Guard, but that isn't the case for the Mississippi State Guard, the third entity under the Mississippi Military Department.

"Mississippi State Guard is a unit of soldiers that serve in Mississippi and cannot be federalized. It's a group of people who care, a group of concerned citizens, who want to make a difference," said Chaplain James Thornton, spokesman for the Mississippi State Guard. "We are the home defenders; we're the ones that'll take care of any of the problems that may arise here in Meridian."

Thornton, who serves with the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade of the State Guard at Key Field, says the Mississippi State Guard is in need of a few good men and women.

"We need to increase our ranks with the National Guard being gone and those people who are serving in the guard and the holes that they have left in case something should happen here," Thornton said.

Chaplain Thornton says along with military duties the Mississippi State Guard has been trained to deal with civilian problems that may arise from any type of disaster.

"We were on active duty for Hurricane Ivan," said Thornton. "We've had training with the Red Cross, with Homeland Security and with FEMA on doing the kind of things that would happen during a hurricane, shelter management especially being the top of the list. We've had a great deal of HAZMAT training and other training in case attacks should come. Nobody knows what's going to happen. We're trying to train for all of it."

Chaplain Thornton says there is no boot camp; recruits learn on the job. He says the requirements to join are simple.

"You got to have heart. You got to want to do it," Thornton said.