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155th helps to rebuild amid searches for weapons

| Monday, Aug. 22, 2005

JACKSON, Miss. -- While much of their time in Iraq is spent rounding up insurgents and searching for clandestine weapons caches, members of the 155th Brigade Combat Team say they also are focused on helping rebuild the war-torn country.

The 155th has unearthed piles of weapons since the unit deployed in January and was credited last month with the capture of more than 100 suspected insurgents in a single mission to the Owesat Village south of Baghdad.

Maj. Danny Blanton, a spokesman for the 155th, says the soldiers have completed six brigade-level operations, 19 battalion-level operations, 21 raids and 304 cordon and search operations. The unit has seized more than 15,000 weapons of all types and rounds, he said.

But Blanton said in a recent e-mail to The Associated Press that some of the most rewarding missions are those that reach out to the Iraqi people.

"It takes much more than weapons to build a democracy, and our soldiers are working very hard to give a future of promise to the youth of Iraq," he said. "We are helping establish the essential needs for all people in Iraq. Electricity, water and fuel that are taken for granted in our country are scarce here, and we are working with the new Iraqi government to change that."

The 155th is made up of about 3,500 Mississippi National Guard soldiers and other troops from Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Texas, Puerto Rico, Virginia, Missouri, New Jersey, South Carolina, Vermont, Utah and Arkansas.

Maj. Gen. Harold A. Cross, Mississippi's adjutant general, has said the 155th is made up of soldiers from 49 different communities in the state, and their deployment has had a direct effect on thousands of families.

Thirteen Mississippians in the unit have died in Iraq, and an even larger number have been wounded.

"I'm sure people ask themselves, 'What does all this mean to Mississippi?"' Blanton said. "There is never a simple solution to war, but the war in Iraq will have far-reaching implications on our children and their children. We live in a world without borders, and a threat to freedom anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere."

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