Chickasaw County and Northeast Mississippi welcomed home the 288th Sapper Company of the Mississippi National Guard Sunday with the bypass around Houston named in honor of all veterans who have served. Ceremonies at Houston High School also marked the unit’s first drill since they returned from Afghanistan Sept. 25.
“May this highway and this sign be a reminder to us of your service,” said Northern Highway Commissioner Mike Tagart. “May it also serve as a reminder to you of our appreciation for your sacrifice to this country and this state.”
Capt. Brenton Montgomery, 288th commander, said the unit accomplished much during its year-long tour of Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan.
“We served with troops from Australia, Slovakia, Singapore and of course Afghanistan,” said Montgomery. “We trained and worked along side the first route clearing company of the Afghanistan Army.”
Montgomery also pointed out the 288th has the highest IED detection and disposal numbers in southern Afghanistan. They also had the highest detection and disposal rate using ground penetrating radar and bomb disposal dogs.
And Montgomery also issued a personal thank you to the community
“Without your support through care packages, letters and prayers we wouldn’t have made it,” he added. “Thank you for not forgetting us while we were in Afghanistan.”
Others speaking at Sunday’s ceremonies included Houston Mayor Stacey Parker, Chickasaw County Dist. 4 Supervisor Jerry Hall, Mississippi Representative Preston Sullivan and Mississippi Senator Russell Jolly.
Rev. Randy Rinehart gave the invocation and Rev. Jimmy Jones gave the benediction. Houston High School student Davianna Pulliam sang the National Anthem and Bobby Sanderson was master of ceremonies.
Lt. Col Michael Cleveland said Houston’s connection to the 288th is different.
“I am not partial to any other unit and I have to say the family support and community engagement within this unit is unique,” said Cleveland. “I think much of it is community driven. You have people who have served a number of years with this company and they have family who served a number of years with this unit.
“I repeatedly point to Houston and bring my commanders to Houston to show them what community support means to a unit,” he added. “You get it. You realize how much that support means to a unit that is deployed.”
The unit has a history stretching back to the Korean Conflict, the Berlin Crisis and the Vietnam War. In September 2004 the company was deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom to conduct combat operations. In June 2007 the 288th was deployed to Iraq for a second time to clear routes. The most recent deployment, from October 2011 to September 2012, was to Afghanistan, again to clear roads of explosives.
The War in Afghanistan began Oct. 7, 2001 with the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom by coalition forces with the aim of toppling the Taliban and stopping terrorist organizations based in that country. In May 2012 NATO announced it would be withdrawing combat troops from Afghanistan by 2014.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, as of January 25, there have been 3,257 U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan. The war has an estimated cost of $468 billion through 2011.
The 288th presented plaques and flags to both the City of Houston and Chickasaw County. A Mississippi State Flag flown on July 4, 2012 in Afghanistan was presented to the city. Guidons that flew on company vehicles traveling on operations in Afghanistan were presented to the county. The Sappers also presented a flag and plaque to the Mississippi Patriot Guard.