Men and women decked in camouflage launched a friendly invasion into the Apalachicola River Valley Friday and spent the weekend training in Calhoun County.
Members of the 350th Civil Affairs Command enjoyed a temporary home at ARTIC (Apalach Regional Training Center) inside the Calhoun County Industrial Park off State Road 71. This entire unit of Army Reservists served together in Iraq in 2004 and have had continued missions there since that time, as well as in Afghanistan. They \typically train in Pensacola one weekend each month. However, Blountstown’s own Logan Barbee, a retired colonel who served alongside these men and women for years, had an idea to offer training exercises in this area of the panhandle.
Barbee’s vision was realized this weekend as General Mark McQueen and Capt. John Nonnemaker oversaw two days of training filled with simulated disasters in the fictitious town of Bella DeBlount in the country of Calhounia. A cast of civilian actors was enlisted, including Blountstown Police Chief Rodney Smith and his wife, Tina, Sarah Mills of ARTIC, Andrew Bennett, Anna Hassig and Ayers Hassig, as well as Robert Biss, Jim Stefanoff, James Nonnemaker and Steve Santiago. The actors played their parts at the Cayson Ranch during a training session on horseback and at the old Rysco Shipyard site (leased from the county). Training exercises were also conducted at the 4H Youth Leadership Camp at Sam Atkins Park.
When training was over each day, the soldiers were treated to some homestyle hospitality. Joe Wood and his son-in-law, Dustin, prepared 320 pounds of crawfish in a complimentary low country boil feast. Catering was also provided by Steve Bailey.
The men and women of the 350th wish to extend their appreciation to the chefs and to all those who made their training experience in Calhoun County so memorable. Special thanks to Chris Kelsey of ARTIC for the use of their facilities; members of the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce Veterans Affairs Committee for securing the facility; Judy Ludlow of the Extension Office for providing the 4-H Youth Camp for training; Willie D. Wise for housing 10 soldiers; Bud and Wendy Guilford for housing four soldiers; Phillip Hill for allowing the unit to utilize Calhoun-Liberty Hospital for an assessment exercise; Blountstown High School Principal Debbie Williams for use of the school for assessment training; Betty Ann Cayson for use of the Cayson Ranch; and Ret. Col. Logan Barbee for his tireless efforts to make this local training a reality.
Blountstown’s Lt. Col. Danny Hassig, who serves with the 350th, says the unit plans to make the Calhoun County training weekend an annual event.