Miss. adjutant general promoted

Published 6:35 pm Friday, July 11, 2008

William L. Freeman Jr., Mississippi’s top National Guard official, was promoted to major general on Thursday, pledging to keep the welfare of his troops and their families as his top priority.

Freeman, 64, came out of military retirement in May to take up the position of adjutant general. He left a successful career in banking to lead the state’s roughly 13,000 citizen soldiers.

The Newton resident takes over at a time when nearly 90 percent of the Guard’s forces have deployed in recent years. Mississippi’s largest Guard unit, the 155th Brigade Combat Team, made up of about 3,500 members, is likely to head to Iraq for a second tour next year.

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“We talked about soldiers today and that’s going to be my main focus,” Freeman said. “I’ll be a boots-on-the-ground type of general.”

Freeman said Mississippi’s Guard soldiers and airmen have been praised for their performances in war and he wants to continue to ensure they have the best training and equipment available. Taking care of the families they leave behind is also a priority, he said.

Gov. Haley Barbour and Freeman’s wife, Karen, pinned the newest stars on the officer’s uniform in a packed auditorium at Guard headquarters in Jackson. He was promoted from brigadier general, which was his rank at retirement, to major general.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the ceremony came when Freeman recognized the War World II service of his 87-year-father. Freeman appeared to fight back tears, calling the Navy veteran a proud member of America’s “greatest generation.”

Freeman served in the Guard for 30 years before retiring in 1999 and was commander of the 66th Troop Command. He replaces retired Maj. Gen. Harold A. Cross of Flowood.

Barbour put together a search committee to find an adjutant general in 2004. At the time, the committee recommended Cross and three others. Freeman was on that list.

Barbour said the committee looked for someone with proven Guard leadership and a record of accomplishments that earned the support of those around him.

Freeman has “every one of those qualities and more,” Barbour said.

Freeman left a job as senior vice president and chief operating officer of Newton County Bank to become adjutant general.

Cross, who retired earlier this year, led the Guard though the largest single deployment of Guard soldiers since World War II when the 155th spent most of 2005 in Iraq. He also was praised for his leadership during Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed much of southern Mississippi in August 2005.