Camp Shelby opens new airstrip

Published 7:08 pm Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The airstrip at Camp Shelby can now handle the arrivals and departures of C-17 aircraft, which military officials say will improve troop training.

The newly completed airstrip — called the Shelby Auxiliary Field 1 — was opened Monday.

Officials said Camp Shelby now has one of only two airfields in the world capable of handling the C-17’s short field assault landing operations.

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“It (C-17) gives Camp Shelby the capability to go from a tactical operation to a strategic training facility,” Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, commander of the U.S. First Army, said Monday.

Camp Shelby currently provides military training to more than 100,000 troops each year from all over the country.

“This is a big addition to Camp Shelby because it makes for very realistic training,” Honore said.

The primary function of a C-17 is to serve as cargo and troop transportation for soldiers, officials said.

The C-17 weighs nearly half a million pounds when fully fueled and can hold more than 100,000 pounds of cargo. It requires a crew of three: a pilot, co-pilot and loadmaster.

“We can now fly troops in for training and send them back to their home stations,” said Maj. Gen. Harold Cross, adjutant general of the Mississippi National Guard. “It’s a tremendous asset to what is already the best training facility in America.”

Military officials said the airstrip will be used in natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

“In the time of a storm, or other natural disasters, the C-17 will allow supplies to be shipped directly into Camp Shelby,” said Honore, who as First Army commander is responsible for training the National Guard and Army Reserve to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Camp Shelby, carved out of the rolling hills and pine forests of south Mississippi, is dotted with blown up cars, razor-wire checkpoints and small mock cities where soldiers learn the techniques of urban warfare.

It is one of two major National Guard bases selected by the Pentagon to train its citizen soldiers from across the county. Thousands of soldiers from Alaska to Vermont to Mississippi have passed through Camp Shelby since the base was federally activated in June 2004.