By BECKY GILLETTE
Each year more than twice the number of members of the military train at Camp Shelby than there are residents of Hattiesburg, population 47,566. About 125,000 people train annually there, with about 60 percent coming from the National Guard, and the remainder from the active military services including the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.
That pumps a lot of economic activity into the local economy, so much so that Camp Shelby is frequently referred to as the third leg of the three-legged stool of economic development in the Pine Belt area that also includes education and health care.
Chad Newell, president of the Area Development Partnership, said Camp Shelby is a tremendous asset for the region and state.
“Camp Shelby has served as a mobilization/demobilization center since World War I and is the largest state-owned National Guard Training Facility in the United States,” Newell said. “All branches of the military conduct training missions at Camp Shelby. With more than 1,600 employees and thousands of soldiers coming here to train, Camp Shelby’s economic impact is far reaching and it is certainly a strategic asset for our nation. We are so proud to be a military community and pleased to be celebrating Camp Shelby’s Centennial.”
On July 18, Camp Shelby will turn 100 years old. Major events are planned July 13 and 15 to mark the milestone.
“The centennial is a good time to celebrate our past,” said Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center Commander Col. Gregory S. Michel. “A key point is that Camp Shelby has been used to mobilize, train and deploy soldiers, airmen and Marines in every one of our nation’s conflicts with the exception of the Korean War.”
Employees at the camp working for different entities. A portion of those serve to maintain the training facility and maintain it.
“We also have a large Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site (MATES) here that services all of the combat equipment stations here at Camp Shelby,” Michel said. “It is the second largest MATES facility in the U.S.”
Michel said Camp Shelby takes its role in the Pine Belt very seriously. It is estimated that the camp has a $75 million to $100 million annual impact to the local economy and about a $400- million statewide economic impact.
“We value our role in the community and are very proud to be a part of this community,” Michel said. “Camp Shelby’s growth has to a lot to do with being uniquely and strategically postured given the proximity to Port of Gulfport and the accessibility with the Kansas City Southern Railway. We also have the unique capability of a C-17 assault strip. A typical commercial air strip is about 10,000 feet in length while an assault strip is approximately 3,500 feet in length. It has the capability and proximity to the deployment processing center to receive and deploy soldiers directly into theater.”
Michel attributes the robust training package at Camp Shelby as the primarily driver of their growth.
“We have been able to bring back a lot of the business that was lost during the mobilization due to the war on terror,” he said. “Since we came off-line as a mobilization center, we’ve gotten a lot of business from the National Guard and other service components to train. Camp Shelby has a positive reputation among all service components of the Department of Defense.”
About 500 people work at the active duty 177th Armored Brigade which is responsible for training selected U.S Army Reserve and the National Guard outfits. There is also an Observer\Controller Trainer Academy at Camp Shelby.
“In addition, we have a large footprint of soldiers who work at the Regional Training Institute,” Michel said. “That is a military campus that trains a number of military skill sets that will go on from here and serve in military units in other states.”
The major centennial event schedule include a black-tie-optional gala open to the general public that will be held Thursday night, July 13, at the Hattiesburg Convention Center.
“We will have speakers, dinner entertainment, and an opportunity for military and civilian in the community to celebrate this significant milestone of Camp Shelby,” Michel said. “Saturday, July 15, there will be an open house at Camp Shelby with period displays from the respective nation’s conflicts. Period reenactors will be working here around the equipment talking about those conflicts. It will be a living tribute to these periods in our history. We will have entertainment, foods and activities for kids. The Camp Shelby Museum will be open.”
Camp Shelby’s mission is designed around preparing the nation’s military for its operation both on American soil and abroad.
“I certainly see Camp Shelby continuing to play a large role in preparing our units to deploy,” Michel said. “In the event of a conflict abroad, Camp Shelby would undoubtedly have a role in that. Camp Shelby will also service components with training. We have seen continued growth in our training population over the past few years and everything I have seen indicates it will continue to grow. We are certainly not immune to budget cuts. We have to figure out how to be more resourceful with the assets we have. We are ready and willing to take on the roles passed down by the governor and the president of the U.S.”
Camp Shelby covers 134,820 acres in Forrest and Perry counties.