Alaska officials send off Guard soldiers

Posted: Wednesday, October 04, 2006

HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski told hundreds of soldiers headed to Iraq in his state's largest deployment of National Guard troops in decades that the men and women come from a long line of warriors.

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Camp Shelby hosted a send-off bash Tuesday for nearly 600 soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 297th Infantry, representing 81 different communities and more than a half dozen cultures - Eskimos, Tlingits, Haidas, Aleuts, Athabascans and others.

"You follow a long line of warriors," Murkowski said. "You are the descendants of the (Alaska) Territorial Guard and the Eskimo Scouts. We owe you an extreme amount of gratitude that we can never repay."

Murkowski made the comments at a ceremony marking the end of the battalion's training at Camp Shelby, a massive 136,000-acre base cut out of the rolling hills and forests south of Hattiesburg.

The soldiers were to get a week of leave to spend with family and friends before shipping out. Officials said it is Alaska's largest deployment since World War II.

Lt. Col. Duff Mitchell said it took some time for the unit to become accustomed to the sweltering heat when they arrived.

"I think putting the unit out into the field for 18 days straight helped get them accustomed to the heat," he said.

"You're trained and ready," said Col. John Hadjis, commander of the 3rd Brigade 87th Division Training Support Brigade, which oversees training at the base. "You look magnificent and it has been an honor to be a part of your training."

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