Legislators tour Camp Shelby

Published 6:39 pm Wednesday, June 11, 2008

One of the largest training facilities in the nation and located in Mississippi touts state of the art training facilities and housing quarters to train soldiers for the war on terror.

Members of the Mississippi Legislature toured Camp Shelby in Lamar and Forrest counties to see what federal and state money is being used for.

Camp Shelby was formed in 1917. The camp has trained members of the United States military from World War I through today. In just the past four years, the 134,000 acre camp has trained about 135,000 soldiers, said Lt. Col. Brad Smith, Deputy Commander for Mobilization.

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Today live fire ranges and simulated war-torn environments allow the soldiers to prepare for deployment overseas to participate in the war on terror. The live fire ranges accommodate any kind ammunition, from small arms fire to fire from helicopters. A five by three mile range with six lanes gives the various kinds of military equipment the room needed to train with stationary and moving targets.

On site is the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum with displays of the many wars in which Mississippians and others who have trained at Camp Shelby have fought. Museum Director Chad Daniels took the legislators on a guided tour and explained that the displays contain a number of veteran-donated items. Veterans also were called in to help preserve the accuracy of the displays.

The tour took the legislators to the locations of various Forward Operation Bases where the conditions varied according to the kind of training taking place. Some units roughed it in the heat, while others prepared for conditions overseas that would still allow them to have air-conditioned sleeping quarters and hot showers.

“Quality of life for the soldier is very big,” said Lt. Col. Steve Parham, director of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.

During their training soldiers are required to wear body armor and carry their weapons, both of which they should never be without, Parham said.

An on-site airstrip also affords pilots a place train for short distance landings with large aircraft. The 3,500-foot-long airstrip accommodates C-17 aircraft, which are capable of transporting tanks, Parham said.

Other training sites simulate situations where role playing prisoners will attempt an escape.

“They actually have guys escape from here from time to time to show them how easy it is,” Parham said.

Vehicle roll-over training also is conducted. In the event a Humvee rolls over, soldiers will be versed on how to safely exit the vehicle. Three machines with actual Humvee bodies attached simulate dry and water-based roll overs. This mandatory training teaches soldiers about weight loads, road conditions and mitigation techniques.

High school students who dropped out can acquire their diploma from the Youth Challenge Program located at Camp Shelby. Prospective students must be between 16 and 18 years-old, have dropped out of high school and not have been in trouble with the law, said Maj. Gen. Ike Plyant. The school graduates about 400 students a year and gives them the life skills they need to succeed, Plyant said.

Brig. Gen. William Freeman said site tours take place every year to show government officials the kind of work that goes on there and where their funding is going.

Sen. Ezell Lee of Picayune said that while this was not his first tour of the site since the war on terror began, a lot has changed. Since his last tour Lee said he noted the use of air-conditioning for some of the training soldiers and the finished state of the museum. With the war on terror in full swing, a large part of the funding for Camp Shelby comes from the federal government, Lee said. In times of peace most of the funding comes from the State of Mississippi, he said.