367th Gets Big Sendoff

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"They are prepared and they are ready," said Sen. Gloria Williamson of Philadelphia at a special sendoff ceremony for the 367th Maintenance Company. "I can't say anything except to tell you, I'm proud of you!"

Williamson echoed the thoughts of many families in Neshoba and Kemper Counties.

Around 180 men and women were deployed to Ft. Lewis, Washington, in Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Philadelphia Mayor Rayburn Waddell said his town felt it necessary to show their troops how much it appreciates them.

"These are the people that preserve our freedom. The men and women in green, if it weren't for them, we wouldn't have our freedom," Waddell said. "This is a small token of what we can do for our military."

Commander in Chief of the Mississippi National Guard, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, also spoke to the unit.

"I could not be prouder of any group of men and women than the citizen soldiers of the Mississippi National Guard. I believe it's important for them to know that. That they not only have the support of Philadelphia and Neshoba County, but they've got the support of the entire state of Mississippi," said Musgrove.

The governor, Adjutant Gen. James Lipscomb, and Neshoba County officials said they hoped their presence would provide some peace of mind for those leaving and for the families. For many, it did.

"To have that much power and authority, it's great to have somebody that's proud of you and supports you all the way," said Joshua Payne, a member of the 367th based in Philadelphia.

This is the 367th's first deployment since Desert Storm in 1991, but by all accounts, it appears ready for whatever role is necessary.

Kemper County also bid a special farewell to its 48 National Guardsmen who are attached to the 367th Maintenance Company in Dekalb.

A prayer service was held downtown at the courthouse Friday before the unit left for duty.

"We take great pride in what we do," said Annie Hart, a member of the 367th Maintenance Company, adding that her service and others may allow some other guardsmen to come home.

"They're going to be taken care of and we have to take care of each other," said Sid McCoy, Jr., who has family and co-workers in the unit.

"I'm more worried about the kids than anything," said Aaron Jimison, who has a sister, sister-in-law and other relatives in the 367th. "We're just going to stick together and just continue to take care of them."

The 367th will provide support for the Strike Brigade, a new division of the Army. The unit was escorted by law enforcement as it headed for the interstate in Meridian, and its trip to Fort Lewis, Washington.