Family members and friends by the thousands gathered Wednesday under overcast skies at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg to salute members of the 155th Brigade Combat Team as it completed preparations for deployment to Iraq.
The brigade includes the 150th Engineer Battalion, based in Meridian, and companies in Quitman, Union and Carthage.
Maj. Gen. Harold Cross, Mississippi's adjutant general, said the 4,000 soldiers from Mississippi, Arkansas and Vermont are, "Getting ready to move out to face the enemies of the United States as watchmen on the walls of freedom."
Cross said members of the 155th will have armored vehicles and the best training available to carry out their mission.
The combat team received a two-day sendoff that included a concert with Wayne Newton and other celebrities Tuesday and a formal deployment ceremony.
The 155th will deploy to the Middle east after Christmas. Family members attending offered comments like these.
"I think, right now, reality hasn't hit, you know, because he's still here, but after all this, you know, it'll get tough."
"I'll be watching the news a lot, seeing what I can find out about what's going on over there."
"I think the reality's starting to set in now, you know, because they told us that after we have him for Christmas, then you know, he can ship out any time and go to war. We're behind him 100 percent."
The combat team was called up in June and has been training at Camp Shelby since then. The training included a month-long stint in the Mojave Desert at Fort Irwin, California.