890th defused bombs in Iraq

Monument honors Guard battalion

 

Maj. Gen. William Freeman, Adjutant General for Mississippi, addresses the crowd Sunday after the unveiling of a monument commemorating the soldiers of the 890th Engineer Battalion who deployed to Iraq.

GULFPORT

Theirs was one of the most dangerous jobs in Iraq, and a monument unveiled Sunday pays tribute to the soldiers of the 890th Engineer Battalion of the Mississippi National Guard.

The latest mission was on the streets of Baghdad, finding improvised explosive devices and clearing the way.

“It’s a daring job,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Donald Cooley, the highest ranking non-commissioned officer in Mississippi. “Think of the lives saved.”

The granite monument at the National Guard Readiness Center in Gulfport was created by Jesse Phillips of Mississippi Marble and Granite in Pascagoula. A red castle, the emblem of the engineer corps of the National Guard, and the U.S. and Mississippi flags are in the center of the granite, surrounded by the names of those who deployed.

“Lest we forget,” Cooley said.

The Guardsmen endured temperatures of 135 degrees when they deployed for a year in 2003, and Guardsman Jimmy Chance lost his life there. The battalion returned to Iraq for more than nine months in 2008; that time all 528 soldiers came home.

“We trained the 6th Iraqi Army company to do our job,” said Sgt. Maj. Larry Mergenschroer.

“The soldiers know the IEDs are out there to get them, and he said they now have the technology and equipment to do the job.

“I’ve been over and visited them and what an outstanding job they did,” said Maj. Gen. William Freeman, Adjutant General for Mississippi.

“You have special training and skills that most other states lack,” he told the soldiers, who have responded to hurricanes, tornadoes and floods in Mississippi.

During Hurricane Katrina, the company stayed in the armory, and the soldiers were out immediately helping in the community.

Josh Russell, of the 890th, died during a search-and-rescue mission.

“I was in this unit,” said Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel, who joined the 890th when he was 14.

“They’ve been a fine contribution to our way of life in South Mississippi, in peace and war.” 

By MARY PEREZ – meperez@sunherald.com
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