February 12, 2012
NORMAN — About 40 members of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were welcomed home Saturday morning by family and fellow soldiers at the Norman Armed Forces Reserve Center.
Officials with the Oklahoma Army National Guard said the soldiers, who were serving in Afghanistan, are the first of a dozen groups set to return to Oklahoma over the coming months as part of a demobilization process.
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Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, the state's adjutant general, told the returning men and women to “absorb being home” and to be careful while celebrating their homecoming with friends and family.
“If you got a motorcycle, stay off of that thing for about 30 days,” Deering said. “Reintegration is not an event, it's a process.”
Deering, whose son serves in the military, said he understands the perspective of the worried family member as well as he does the soldier's.
“These families are part of what we are and who we are,” he said. “Families, we can't do what we do without you.”
Many of the troops had family members waiting at the reserve center on the freezing Saturday morning.
Tearful reunions were plentiful.
Spc. Kale Williams, of Edmond, was greeted by his fiancee, mother, older brother and other loved ones.
Williams, 22, said the most difficult part of being away from his soon-to-be wife and family is the lack of regular communication.
“When you're out there, alone on some mountain, it gets lonely,” he said. “Not being able to speak to them when I want to is hard.”
A scout while he's in combat, Williams said roadside bombs — probably the most notorious killer in the two wars — continue to haunt U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Every time you got in a truck, it was a big surprise,” he said. “So, I'm looking forward to hanging out with my family and friends … getting back to normal.”
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Military officials said about 2,200 Oklahoma guardsmen were sent to Afghanistan in June. Another 800 were sent to Kuwait at the same time.
Officials say both groups are in the process of demobilizing.
Col. Mike Chase, deputy brigade commander of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said the Oklahoma National Guard has lost 14 soldiers since U.S. troops were deployed in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the East Coast.
Chase said more than 2,000 Oklahoma guardsmen remain in active combat theaters associated with the wars.
He said subsequent groups of returning soldiers will be larger, but he wasn't sure exactly how many troops would be coming home between now and late spring.
“We've had to reduce our numbers,” Chase said. “But as far as any long-term strategy, I can't say specifically what that is.”
For Williams, who just returned from his first tour of duty, the talk of troop reductions doesn't equal the end of the war in Afghanistan.
“It won't be over any time soon, that's how I feel,” he said. “Operation Enduring Freedom will go on for a long time.”