Soldiers return from Iraq, honored at Camp Shelby service

Published 5:48 pm Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A group of Mississippi Army National Guard soldiers just back from a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq have been honored with a combat patch not issued since World War II.

About 50 members of the 352nd Corps Support Battalion were honored Sunday at a ceremony at Camp Shelby, a sprawling National Guard base near Hattiesburg.

The “Welcome Home Warrior-Citizen” ceremony recognized the soldiers for their contributions to the war, Army officials said.

Soldiers also received the 81st Wildcat Division’s combat patch, making them the first soldiers to receive the honor since 1945.

Each soldier also received an encased American flag, a coin, a certificate and a pin.

“For a support battalion, they saw an extraordinary amount of action that you would not expect a support battalion to go through,” said Dr. John Boyd, command historian for the 81st Wildcat Division.

Recent changes in Army rules allow the soldiers to wear the patch, Boyd said.

While in Iraq, the battalion escorted convoys, said Col. Steve Eveker, the battalion’s commanding officer.

“It was an extremely dangerous mission,” Eveker said. “We traveled 1.4 million miles. We had 183 IED (improvised explosive device) attacks and 42 mortar. And we lost no soldiers. We were awarded with 24 Purple Hearts and 75 percent of these soldiers received combat decorations.

“It was a great mission,” he said. “It’s difficult to figure out if we got lucky or not — I think we just had good soldiers.”

Maj. Gen. Alan Bell told the soldiers to cherish their families and make the most of the time they will now have with each other.

“Probably the hardest thing we have to do is be separated from our families,” Bell said. “But as you go … you’re going to realize the significance of what you have done. You will go back into the loving arms of your communities who are really proud of what you’ve done. I can’t tell you how proud I am of you.”