Mississippians prep for Jan. deployments
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    Cool Mississippians prep for Jan. deployments

    Mississippians prep for Jan. deployments
    Sailor headed for Afghanistan; Marine being sent to Iraq
    By Kathleen Baydala
    The Clarion-Ledger

    Naval Petty Officer 1st Class Dave Childers of Pearl has never been away from his family for more than three weeks since he was married in 1994.

    He will deploy this month to Afghanistan for at least a year — possibly two.

    While his orders have changed once already, Childers thinks he will be working with a mobilized accounting unit. What that entails, he doesn't know.He leaves to begin the deployment process on Jan. 9.

    "You never know what it's going to be like until you get there," Childers said. Political pressure is mounting to withdraw troops from the Middle East. But even as soldiers are returning, the United States is planning to deploy fresh troops there early this year.

    There is no head count for how many Mississippi soldiers will head overseas. But as of mid-December, the U.S. Department of Defense reported more than 5,000 Mississippi soldiers were stationed abroad, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Childers, an operations specialist, has served in the Navy since he graduated from high school in 1982. He has been stationed abroad before — Grenada, Libya, Japan, Spain, England.This will be his first trip to a land-locked country. Although he is a naval officer, Childers will be issued Army equipment and will assist an Army unit.

    "I guess they are sort of borrowing me," he said.Marine Gunnery Sgt. Dan Parker is another Mississippian gearing up for a one-year tour abroad. He will leave his wife and their new baby boy behind on a military base in southern California and head to Iraq in February with the 9th Communications Battalion.

    Parker, who was raised in Puckett in Rankin County, said he's proud of his service. He was inspired to join the Marines out of high school by his uncle, whom he calls a mentor.

    He has seen more of the world than most of his family and peers and served in the Gulf War on a ship in the Persian Gulf. But this round of combat in Iraq leaves a bitter taste in Parker's mouth. There's no end in sight, he said."I would really like to see us get a final pullout plan," he said. "The only thing I think about now is retiring and getting home to my family."

    University of Southern Mississippi history professor Michael Neiberg said the debate over when soldiers should withdraw will carry on for several more years. Meanwhile, the debate over Iraq will become more politicized."It's clear that Republicans support the war, and Democrats are not so sure," he said.

    Neiberg also predicts Iraq will be an issue in the 2008 presidential elections. During the Vietnam War, former President Richard Nixon won office partly because he promised Americans he had a plan to withdraw troops.

    Another comparison being made between the conflict in Iraq and the Vietnam War is waning public support. The difference is that Americans are not pinning their distrust of government leadership on the troops, Neiberg said.Parker's mother, Mary Parker, 57, who lives in Rankin County, said she opposes the Bush administration's operations in Iraq. But she adamantly supports the troops.

    "They're just doing their jobs," she said.Soldiers are aware of public opinion and often have their own, Childers said. But they can't let it affect their work, he said.

    Said Childers: "I have to serve whether I think the whole thing is right or not."


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