In the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s removal as dictator in Iraq, one of his former palaces has been turned into a luxury hotel at Camp Victory in Baghdad.
And now a group of National Guard soldiers training at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg are being transformed into hotel/restaurant managers.
Approximately 30 soldiers from the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team from the Louisiana National Guard participated in a one-day crash course on Friday, Jan. 22 at The University of Southern Mississippi. Faculty from the Southern Miss Department of Casino, Hospitality and Tourism Management (CHTM) teamed with representatives of PCH Hotels & Resorts of Alabama to provide real-life training for the group’s mission. The soldiers are scheduled for deployment in March to assume management duties at the Joint Visitors Bureau Hotel in Baghdad.
“The support from the University of Southern Mississippi has been outstanding,” said Lt. Col. Clay Rivers, commander of the 2nd of the 156th Infantry Battalion, which is part of the 256th IBCT. “The willingness to provide support and the professionalism the faculty has demonstrated in preparing us for this training is extraordinary, and will enable our soldiers to be properly trained for their upcoming mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
During the one-day seminar, soldiers received training in the fundamentals of hotel management, which included:
• Proper methods for greeting hotel guests
• How to handle complaints
• Importance of body language
• Customer service strategies
• Front desk and telephone etiquette
• Banquet/conference set-up protocol
• Table service and housekeeping
The Joint Visitors Bureau Hotel offers lodging for United States generals and their families; foreign dignitaries and other VIPs. During their deployment, which could last up to a year, the soldiers will assist with meal preparation, sanitation, maintenance and other hotel-related duties.
“I’m really looking forward to getting over there,” said First Sgt. Terrel Goodwin. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think part of my job in the Guard would be to help run a hotel. But this course was really useful in helping prepare us for the task at hand.”
Keith Schmitt, vice-president of Human Resources with PCH Hotels & Resorts, said the opportunity to assist in military training fulfilled a sense of civic duty for him and other PCH professionals.
“We were delighted to partner with USM in this effort,” Schmitt said. “Our goal was to expose them to as many details as possible in running a four-star hotel. And they were very receptive to everything we had to say.
“The fact is that this has been a blessing for us to be involved in a training exercise like this. Because of the work being done over there we’re able to enjoy the lifestyle we have over here.”
Catherine Price, CHTM chair at Southern Miss, said the unique training exercise could jumpstart a line of communication between the university and soldiers on the ground in Iraq.
“We hope the soldiers, once on the job, will share their experiences at the JVB hotel with the faculty and students so that we can build a learning bridge between Southern Miss and Camp Victory,” said Price.
For more information about CHTM program at Southern Miss, call 601.266.4659 or visit http://www.usm.edu/business/departments/tourism_management.php
Kent “Spike” Blackinton, general manager of the Renaissance Riverview Plaza hotel, instructs a group of Louisiana National Guardsmen on hotel management during a one-day course held Friday, Jan. 22 at The University of Southern Mississippi. (Office of University Communications photo by Steve Rouse).
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.