By PAUL SIMS
Sgt. 1st Class Mike Hemphill’s second tour of duty in Iraq varied greatly from his first.
Hemphill, who serves in the Mississippi Army National Guard’s Headquarters Battery, 2nd-114th Strike Battalion, made his first deployment to Iraq in January 2005, in southern Iraq’s Forward Operating Base Kalsu. The 2nd-114th deployed as part of Mississippi’s 155th Brigade Combat Team.
The brigade operated in a full spectrum of military roles, including artillery, infantry and and medical support to the 2nd Marine Infantry Division.
Hemphill recounted his time in Iraq to an audience gathered for the Veterans Day ceremony Thursday at Stoy-Nash Post 5573 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
On his first tour, he served radar to track such fire as counter mortar and missile, totaling some 500 rounds fired at his fellow soldiers or their checkpoints.
“We deployed with vehicles that we not designed to ... protect the soldiers,” he said.
“Insurgents honed their skills in making” improvised explosive devices, Hemphill said, adding they used military-grade munitions, such 155mm cannon rounds, in their devices.
“ Our soldiers were traveling the dangerous roads south of Baghdad in lightly armored trucks that were no match for these” explosives, he said. “During this deployment we lost many soldiers to enemy fire and IEDs.”
The second time around, Hemphill went to Iraq in June 2009, working at Central Operating Base Key West in northern Iraq. His company served in convoy escort roles, supporting the transportation of much-needed food, water supplies from installation to installation, he said.
He was the company operations sergeant. In this role, Hemphill was in charge of training, administrative section and tactical operations.
This time, Hemphill and those he served with used fully armored Mine Resistant Ambush Protected – or MRAP – vehicles, made to withstand and thwart IED explosions.
“Most of the IEDS we encountered were homemade munitions” and were “very ineffective against our vehicles,” Hemphill said. Plus, “On this deployment the threat of hostile mortar rocket fire was non-existent. We didn’t lose any lives to enemy fire.”
In making his address, Hemphill shared his definition of a veteran – someone who is an ordinary person who accomplishes extraordinary things.
Along with such features as “Taps,” the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, an invocation and benediction, those who attended also heard five speakers read aloud the names of Oktibbeha County residents who died in service to the nation from World War I to the War on Terror.