168th returning home Wednesday

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 8, 2004

[4/6/04]Organizers say they expect as many as 750 family members and well-wishers to turn out Wednesday when members of the Mississippi HHC 168th Engineer Group return home from a year-long deployment in Iraq.

Fifty-eight members of the 168th are expected to arrive around 10 a.m. at the Vicksburg Readiness Center near Flowers. The company is one of the last Mississippi National Guard units to return home since deployments began, said Sgt. Bill Thurman of the National Guard.

Barry Graham, special project coordinator for the City of Vicksburg, said about a dozen area businesses have donated supplies for a homecoming ceremony, and elementary students from area schools are expected to turn out for the 30-minute celebration following the unit’s arrival.

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The troops will be traveling by charter bus from Fort Stewart, Ga. In case of rain the ceremony will be moved inside the armory.

People wishing to attend the homecoming should take the Flowers exit from Interstate 20, cross back over the interstate and follow the signs leading to parking in the rear of the new readiness center. Bleachers will be set up in front of the armory along Interstate 20.

The unit arrived in Kuwait on April 11 in support of operations in Iraq that had begun three weeks earlier. During their 11 months, the engineering group completed 1,500 projects in Iraq and supported every U.S. division there, including the U.S. Army 5th Corps, the lead combat element.

The 168th’s mission was to manage construction in Iraq, and the group completed several military tasks as well as civilian works, including rebuilding five schools, converting a former Ba’ath party headquarters into a medical clinic and building soccer fields.

About half the group’s members are from Warren County and the surrounding area, and half are from other parts of the state.