Craig Day, News On 6

HATTIESBURG, Mississippi -- More than 3,000 members of Oklahoma's 45th Infantry are training right now. They'll leave in a few weeks for Afghanistan.

News On 6 anchor Craig Day and Photojournalist Todd Ruffin recently went to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to meet up with some of our soldiers making their home state proud.

"Right now, we're doing great things," James Ellison, of Watonga, said.

The soldiers are at Camp Shelby outside Hattiesburg, Mississippi, getting training, before their deployment to Afghanistan. They're from all over Oklahoma, including towns like Watonga and Seminole.

"Everybody is really getting after it, and taking it serious." Ellison said.

"Makes me feel like I'm giving back to what the country gave to me," Canisha Harjo, of Seminole, said.

The soldiers make up the largest deployment of the 45th Infantry brigade since the Korean War.

"Making sure my guys that I'm in charge of come home alive, and everyone is safe, that's my mission." Scott Veron, of Tulsa, said.

The mission will include a wide range of duties, including combat patrols. A live fire exercise will help prepare them for those patrols.

"It's very critical," Captain Chris Ribera, of Durant, said. "This is very much going to be similar to what our soldiers will be facing when we get to Afghanistan."

Training is done at an intense pace. The days often start early.

"Some long days you know, but it's all good," Devin Blair, of Tulsa, said.

But by pushing the Oklahoma soldiers hard here, it will help them better handle situations they might encounter later.

"You want to replicate the situation as closely as you can," Ribera said. "Machine gun fire. That's what is going to prepare our soldiers the best."

In another exercise, they're learning sling load operations, basically how to safely unload equipment in a war zone; things like food and water, ammo and even humvees.

In another scenario, soldiers recreate an enemy trying to crash through a checkpoint.

One of the benefits of training in Mississippi is that Camp Shelby is large enough to accommodate a number of different training scenarios, including live fire exercises. That's especially valuable to many of the people from Oklahoma, because about half of the 45th Infantry Brigade that is being deployed to Afghanistan has never been deployed before.

"It's very tough," Ponca City native Jared Bain said. "But at the same time fulfilling to know that we're going to get to go to Afghanistan and complete a mission that is well worth our time and a great thing to do for the people of Afghanistan."

James Ellison has seven family members in the Oklahoma National Guard, including two cousins also training at Camp Shelby.

"It's a pride that runs deep, it's deep down in out blood and our veins," he said.

Many of the Oklahomans have that same pride.

"I'm just so proud to be from Oklahoma," Captain Ribera said. "I think it's one of the most patriotic states in the nation."

"Everybody's family," Tyson Broadfoot, a Catoosa soldier, said. "Even though we're not blood relatives or anything like that, we're all family."

The Oklahoma soldiers want their families to know they're working hard in Mississippi, taking their training seriously, and they're looking forward to the day their mission is over and they return home.

"The sooner we get over there, the sooner we'll get back home to our families and loved ones," Veron said.