858th In Calhoun City Returning To Iraq

The Mississippi National Guard’s 858th Horizontal Construction Company, formerly the 223rd, is preparing for a July 17 deployment to Iraq.

soldiers.jpgLt. Robert Sanders of Derma, Capt. Jack Britton of Tupelo, and 1st Sgt. Joey Jones of Bruce, are preparing to lead the 858th Horizontal Construction Company from Calhoun City to Iraq. The Company is scheduled to depart July 17 for a 400-day mission, 10 months of which will be spent in Iraq. Photo by Joel McNeece


The Mississippi National Guard’s 858th Horizontal Construction Company, formerly the 223rd, is preparing for a July 17 deployment to Iraq.
The more than 160 soldiers, based out of Calhoun City, have spent the past few weeks at Camp McCain undergoing extensive training for the upcoming mission.
“We’re getting everybody trained in multiple areas,” Capt. Jack Britton, of Tupelo said. “This training is critical to our mission in Iraq. Normally we may have two soldiers trained to operate a crane. We’re trying to get everybody trained right now.”
The 858th is utilizing its time at Camp McCain near Grenada to make itself even more versatile. All of the soldiers are learning how to operate cranes, bulldozers, earth movers, track-hoes, drive in convoys, load and unload heavy machinery.
“We’re like a big construction company,” Capt. Britton said. “We push a lot of dirt around. We have to be able to do a little of everything.”
“What’s unique about this company is we have more than 150 pieces of equipment,” said Lt. Robert Sanders, of Derma. “It’s a lot to keep up with and look after.”
Lt. Sanders, a former youth minister in Derma, has been in the Guard for 12 years. This will be his second tour in Iraq. He was part of the 223rd’s mission to Iraq in 2004.
As part of a military alignment, the 223rd was changed to the 858th effective the beginning of 2008. The Calhoun City Company became exclusively horizontal, while the Bruce Company, which is not part of this deployment to Iraq, became strictly vertical engineers.
Lt. Sanders was in the Guard when he met his wife Rochelle, an accountant in Grenada, so the news that he was being deployed again to Iraq wasn’t totally unexpected.
“We have a lot of family and friends that will help out,” Lt. Sanders said. “It could never be easy, but we’re better prepared this time.”
The training at Camp McCain has been challenging for many with more than 130 tasks to be completed before the company is prepared to leave.
“We typically only do this kind of work once a year when we’re not deployed,” Lt. Sanders said. “All of this equipment is so big it’s tough to pull out over a weekend and put it back up.”
Tasks as simple in appearance as binding down equipment on the back of trucks is critical to a successful mission.
“Once we’re over there we move a lot,” Lt. Sanders said. “So we have to be proficient about loading, unloading and transporting.”
One side of camp has teams of soldiers operating heavy cranes, moving large items around over and over until done with the required precision. Across the open fields other teams are in the driver’s seats of bulldozers, pushing dirt into large berms, something frequently done in Iraq.
Still other soldiers are under all the equipment at the maintenance shed honing their skills to make sure they can keep things running upon arrival in the desert.
And then there’s the desert. All the training at Camp McCain is done in full body armor to help the soldiers start getting adjusted.
“Wearing this extra 30 pounds, we’ve got to get in shape with it,” Lt. Sanders said. “It’s tough enough in this 80 degree weather. We’re likely to run into 120 degrees over there.”
First Sgt. Joey Jones, of Bruce, is another of the leaders of this unit.
“This is high speed training,” 1st Sgt. Jones said. “This will give us a better feel of what we’re doing when we get over there.”
Approximately 30% of the 858th were among the 223rd that went to Iraq previously. So for most of the company, this will be a new experience.
“We have a lot of young soldiers,” 1st Sgt. Jones said. “We’re less experienced than we were the first time around, but we have a real strong group.”
First Sgt. Jones is in his 27th year with the National Guard. He said he has no qualms about returning to Iraq.
“We all knew what we were signing up for,” he said. “You do what you have to do. Our number came up. It’s time for us to go serve.”
Capt. Britton said the improved training is helping with the inexperience of his soldiers and he believes they will be better off than the last time they were deployed to Iraq.
“More than 20% of our company are soldiers who volunteered for deployment,” Capt. Britton said. “It shows in our attitude and that’s a big part of it.”
“The first time we had two weeks to get our stuff and go,” Capt. Britton said. “This time we’ve had a lot more time to prepare us and our families. It’s definitely tough though when you have a lot of people depending on you.”
Capt. Britton, who works with Atmos Energy when he’s not a soldier, said a lot of new programs have been established to help the families involved with this deployment.
“It also helps for us to know the quality of life in Iraq is a lot better this time,” he said.
The real training for his men and women, however, will take place at Camp Atterbury in Indiana.
“We’ll undergo more solder tasks at Atterbury,” said Capt. Britton, a 20-year veteran.
That’s where the approximate 400-day mission will begin for the 858th. They will spend a month to six weeks in Indiana before departing for Iraq. Ten of the 13 months during the deployment are scheduled to be in Iraq.

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