The iconic Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center celebrates its centennial this week, honoring the site’s history while also ushering in a new era.
The festivities kick off Thursday (the actual anniversary is July 18) with a formal gala at the Hattiesburg Lake Terrace Convention Center. The public is invited to attend the second day of celebrations on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum.
Camp Shelby, the largest state-owned training center in the country, has helped prepare troops for nearly every military engagement during its existence, including World Wars I and II, the Vietnam War as well as operations in Iraq.
Saturday’s events, free of charge, will feature performances by the melody trio The Victory Belles from the World War II Museum in New Orleans, country music artist Travis Clark, and the 41st Army Band. Throughout the day, visitors can view historic military equipment, watch aerial flyovers, ask questions of period re-enactors of various wars and see Special Forces demonstrations.
Prior to Saturday’s celebration, Camp Shelby will assume new leadership as site commander Col. Greg Michel will relinquish command to Lt. Col. Bobby Ginn.
“I am very humbled and very honored to get this position at Camp Shelby,” Ginn said. “I always had it in the back of my mind that I would like to [become site commander], but I never truly thought that it would be realistic up until a couple of months ago. It’s definitely the highlight of my life and my career.”
Various military branches occupy the training center, including the National Guard, Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
The site, which deploys 1,600 soldiers every day, serves as a major revenue source for Mississippi; Ginn estimates that the camp contributes $14 million annually to local and state economies, and that the Mississippi National Guard is responsible for $420 million in annual state revenue.
Ginn has served at Camp Shelby for the past 24 years, starting as a platoon leader in the mid ’90s before working his way up. His father and grandfather were both stationed at Camp Shelby before him.
“It has truly been a home away from home for me,” said Ginn, a Tylertown native and University of Southern Mississippi alum. “I’ve no doubt spent more time here at Shelby than I have with my family.”
The site has undergone major renovations in the past 20 years, according to Ginn, who says there was “absolutely no air conditioning” when he first arrived. Now, he says, Camp Shelby’s accommodations match those of any civilian hotel.
Thursday’s gala will include a speech by war correspondent Joe Galloway, co-author of We Were Soldiers Once… And Young.
In addition to the performances, Saturday’s open house will include food vendors and kid-friendly activities.