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Local former soldiersoffer advice on coping

[9/20/01]Contact with home will be important for those called to military service, say two Vicksburg men who’ve been there and believe in the work of support groups.

“Without them it would be much, much tougher,” said L.W. “Bump” Callaway, now Warren County emergency management director.

Callaway, a sergeant major of the 412th Engineering Command during Operation Joint Endeavor, said the nine months he spent in Bosnia was aided by his unit’s family support group.

“They are extensively helpful in educating people in the military process,” Callaway said. He said such groups help soldiers and their families prepare for the time away from each other by helping with finances, medical emergencies and other legal matters.

Warren County Undersheriff Jeff Riggs, who served on active duty as a military policeman in Germany and Saudi Arabia, said the best advice he could give soldiers is to stay in contact with their families.

“Let them know you are doing well and that you have put everything in God’s hands and it’s going to be all right,” Riggs said.

Riggs, a former member of the Mississippi Army National Guard’s 114th Military Police Company, said soldiers should also get their bills and other financial affairs in order and prepare a will before leaving. To help with these matters, a military unit usually has a support group, which consists of family members and other military personnel.

Soldiers on active duty can also get financial help through the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act of 1940. The act allows soldiers some debt relief by giving them a fixed interest rates on mortgages and credit cards and exemptions against some personal property taxes.

Riggs, a 21-year-veteran of the Mississippi National Guard, said another piece of advice for a soldier is to be prepared for the uncertainty of a war.

“We knew every night there would be a SCUD missile attack,” Riggs said about his nine months spent in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “That is what we dealt with.”

Leaving home for nine months at a time can be hard, but Riggs feels he did it for a good reason.

“It’s a hollow feeling having to leave your family, but then again you have a sense of pride that the active has to rely on the National Guard and the reserves to fulfill their mission,” Riggs said.