Two years after Camp Shelby concluded its role as a mobilization station for National Guard and Reserve forces headed to Iraq and Afghanistan, National Guard officials said the post is still playing an important role in training members of the Armed Forces to protect the nation.
From 2004-2014, Camp Shelby trained more than 250,000 troops for duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and other missions around the world. Those soldiers came from all over the nation for months of training before heading overseas. The post also demobilized returning units before the soldiers went home.
National Guard officials said Camp Shelby's performance during those years transformed the post from a respected, regionally-known training site into a highly-regarded, nationally known facility.
"What the mobilization has done for Camp Shelby and for Mississippi is, it has brought to light the wonderful resource that we have here at Camp Shelby," said Col. Greg Michel, commander of Camp Shelby. "DOD (Dept. of Defense) has recognized it as a premiere training site and I think that what has come about as part of the (mobilization) is that we have gotten a lot of publicity here at Camp Shelby."
These days, Camp Shelby continues its peacetime training mission, but with more emphasis on active duty forces and civilian partners. Last year, more than 135,000 people trained at the post, including soldiers, airmen, Marines, Coast Guard and Navy personnel. Of those, less than half were in the National Guard.
Camp Shelby also has set up training for state and federal offices, including the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
"I see Camp Shelby continuing to expand its offerings to our active component brothers and sisters," Michel said. "We're seeing them coming and seeking alternate locations to train and the ones who come to Camp Shelby like it, so I think we will continue to see that expand."
Other areas of training are likely to expand. Camp Shelby's role as a leader in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) training has already been established.
"Camp Shelby has the luxury of having the nation's only UAV Center of Excellence for the National Guard (and) we have soldiers both on the National Guard, Reserve and active component that come to Camp Shelby to utilize the facility," Michel said.
Another area being used more and more is the post's air assault strip. Michel said aircraft, such as the C-17 Globemaster, continue to practice maneuvers on an ever-increasing basis.
"It was a part of the Air Force and the Air National Guard putting in a resource such as that here and it is very much very busy," Michel said. "If folks notice and hear the C-17s flying low over the City of Hattiesburg, they're coming to Camp Shelby and they're doing their day and night approaches, touch and goes on our assault strip and they're coming in from all over the United States to do that. That's an enduring mission, absolutely."
To help Camp Shelby publicize its current mission, the National Guard is producing a new promotional video, which describes, in detail, the training opportunities at the post. It is a new way of reaching out to the community and informing them about the post's crucial role in the economy.
"(Our) impact on the economy here locally, is somewhere in the neighborhood of about $100 million annually, give or take a little bit," Michel said. "And that's a little bit down obviously, from when the (mobilization) was here, but still significant impact. I do look at this like a business, and businesses that do not promote themselves and do not educate the public, they ultimately fail, so we want to make sure that we're staying ahead of that ballgame and we're educating the public about what's here and making them aware and welcome the public to come and be a part."
With that in mind, for the first time, Camp Shelby will welcome the Mississippi Economic Council's Leadership Mississippi to the post later this summer.
The Class of 2016 will visit in late August.
"We're very excited about that," Michel said. "You're talking about an organization that's going to bring over 50 of Mississippi's brightest and smartest emerging leaders here to Camp Shelby to learn about Camp Shelby, to learn about the National Guard and learn about the mission that Camp Shelby provides, to not only the National Guard, but to the active component and the Dept. of Defense in general."
Michel said he is confident about Camp Shelby's overall future and certain that if called upon again, the post will fulfill its mission to prepare soldiers for overseas conflict.
"Camp Shelby is still one of First Army's primary mobilization force generation platforms for the Army, so when we see additional mobilizations that may come up in the future, Camp Shelby will be called upon to do that," Michel said. "Now, will we see the magnitude that we saw back in '04-'05 and the peak that Shelby came out to in 2009, 2010, probably not, but I do believe that Camp Shelby will be back in that business at some point."
In the meantime, officials at Camp Shelby are planning for a busy summer.
Thousands of National Guard troops will be conducting routine annual training from now until the end of August.
Michel said June will be the busiest month, with large units from Alabama and Tennessee training at the post simultaneously.