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National Guard troops leave for Iraq

MIDWEST CITY, Okla. (AP) _ About 500 Oklahomans gathered in the field house of Midwest City High School to bid farewell Friday to Oklahoma National Guard troops headed to Iraq.

About 150 men and women in the 1345th Transportation Company will leave Sunday morning for training at Fort Bliss in Texas. The troops will train there for about three months before leaving for Iraq.

They will provide transportation support in the war on terrorism, transporting combat equipment to various bases in Iraq. The troops are expected to be there between a year and 15 months before returning.

``Ladies and gentlemen, I can think of no higher calling than defending freedom,'' Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin said Friday to troops at the ceremony. ``We support you. We believe in you. We know this is a dangerous mission, and we'll be here for you when you return.''

The troops, dressed in green and black fatigues, were seated in the middle of the hardwood gymnasium floor, while teary family members and friends sat in surrounding bleachers.

Several plastic American flags hung around the field house as well as red, white and blue signs that contained encouraging messages like ``We're praying for you'' and ``We're proud of you''.

The 145th Army Band helped to keep the bittersweet ceremony upbeat with the state song ``Oklahoma'', the National Anthem and the traditional Army Song.

Pvt. Lushena Morris, 21, of Enid, said she is ready for war.

``I'm pretty prayed up about the situation,'' she said. ``The adventurous side of me is ready to go, and I realize that this is something that just has to happen_ it's just the way of the world.''

Other troops were a little nervous, like 26-year-old Sgt. Josh Dow of Fairview. This will be Dow's second time in Iraq.

He left the first time in February 2004 and returned home a year later. While there, Dow served with a combat engineering battalion.

``The recent reports about hidden roadside bombs are my main concern,'' he said. ``I'm more nervous this time than I was the first time, but this is something I've wanted to do since I was a little kid.''

Sgt. Jeremy Proctor, 25, said he'll miss his family most of all. The Madill native is a husband and father of two children, ages 4 and 5. Proctor recently returned from Louisiana just months after hurricanes ravaged the Gulf Coast.

``This is an honor,'' he said. ``We've trained well for this and we won't have any problems.''

Proctor's 15-year-old sister-in-law, Jessica Powell, said she just wants Proctor to make it back safely.

``I think he'll do well because he's a strong person and a hard worker,'' she said. ``I love him a lot.''

There are about 9,500 members of the Oklahoma National Guard. Their assignments have ranged from the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, the May 3, 1999, tornadoes, the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes and the war on terrorism.
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