OKLAHOMA CITY —
An enthusiastic crowd welcomed home about 225 members of the Oklahoma National Guard on Monday, with friends, family and state leaders swarming the soldiers after they returned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
The soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team arrived at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base hangar in Oklahoma City shortly after 10:30 a.m. following what Lt. Col. Max Moss said was an all-night bus ride from Camp Shelby in Mississippi, where they arrived last week for demobilization.
“I’m still figuring out what to do with the emotion and adrenaline. It’s a little bit overwhelming,” Spc. George Delisle said as he cradled his 7-month-old son.
About 1,000 people attended the event, which was marked by an emotional standing ovation for Surana Prince, whose husband Sgt. Mycal Prince was killed in September after his unit was attacked with grenades and small arms fire. He was among 14 members of the brigade who were killed during the deployment, and military portraits of each stood in the hangar in their honor.
Prince sobbed as the 14 were remembered at the start of the ceremony, and she exchanged hugs with several of the soldiers. She declined comment through a family member after the event.
“You’re home from a tough deployment, you’ve done a remarkable job,” Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, adjutant general of the state guard, told the soldiers shortly after they marched through the hanger gates.
“I know you want to celebrate and have fun, but please be careful,” Deering told his troops. “Take your time home slowly and carefully. Reintegration is a process, it is not an event.”
Other speakers during the 16 minute ceremony included Gov. Mary Fallin, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and U.S. Rep. James Lankford, whose congressional district includes the base.
About 2,200 soldiers from the 45th were sent to Afghanistan last June, and another 800 were deployed at the same time to Kuwait. About 200 more soldiers are scheduled to return Tuesday, and the remainder should arrive home over the next month, Moss said.
When asked how he felt upon his return, Sgt. Patrick Thomas of Edmond couldn’t stop smiling.
“Feeling great, absolutely outstanding. Fantabulous, there’s a word for you. How about fan-damn-tabulous?” said Thomas, who was welcomed home by his girlfriend, Morgan Townsend.
“Thrilled,” Townsend added. “It’s very surreal.”
Delisle, who said the deployment was his second, called this mission more satisfying and rewarding than the first.
“My first one I went as an engineer. We didn’t do much reconstruction ... because the security was so bad,” the Oklahoma City resident said. “This time I went as a medic, I was first hand serving and helping the soldiers I was with.”