Flag-Waving Crowds Welcome National Guard Troops Home From Iraq - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

Flag-Waving Crowds Welcome National Guard Troops Home From Iraq

DEL CITY, Okla. (AP) _ Once Spc. Stanley Akins was given an American flag by a supporter, he wasn't about to give it up.

Akins carried the flag into a ceremony Friday night to welcome 142 members of the Oklahoma National Guard's 1345th Transportation Company home from Iraq, and then draped it over his shoulders afterward as he talked to friends who'd come to meet him at Del City High School.

``I'm going to take a long vacation, sit back and suck in being home,'' said Akins, a 23-year-old from Oklahoma City. ``Being over there, all you've got is memories of home. And now we are home.''

Crowds waving flags and holding signs lined the streets leading to the high school, where hundreds more supporters waited for the troops to complete a parade route.

``I guarantee you there's a lot of people that wish they got this kind of welcome,'' Battalion Commander Warren Griffis told the troops after they'd received a standing ovation from the crowd.

The guardsmen, wearing camouflage and boots, came into the school's gymnasium under an arc of red, white and blue balloons and walked single file to their places in front of metal folding chairs, each with a toy soldier tied to a note expressing gratitude. A single red rose lay on the ground next to each chair.

Supporters stood and cheered, many of them waving flags, as the guardsmen walked in and they kept cheering for a full minute after all the troops had reached their chair.

Major Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, the adjutant general of Oklahoma, said three guardsmen in the unit had received Purple Hearts for their service, and nine more were pending.

``You can tell that this unit was in harm's way, but we were very, very fortunate to get everybody back,'' Wyatt said.

The troops had been away from home for about 15 months, with the first three months spent training at Fort Bliss in Texas. After that, it was off to Iraq.

``They're a transportation company and they actually got to go and do transportation stuff,'' Wyatt said. ``They were running truck convoys up and down the highways of Iraq, providing security for some of those. They did a magnificent job.''

Gov. Brad Henry visited the troops in Mosul, Iraq, in March but was unable to attend the welcome home ceremony because he was out of the country on a mission trip to Ghana. State Treasurer Scott Meacham passed along greetings from the governor.

``You have done your job, and you have done your job well and proud,'' Meacham told the troops. ``You have made all of Oklahoma proud.''

The walls of the gymnasium were covered with signs with messages including ``Heavy Metal Rolling,'' ``Back from Iraq'' and ``We Love Our Soldiers.'' Red, white and blue bunting covered railings along the concourse, and flags hung from many of the railings. The governor's band played patriotic songs, including ``God Bless America.''

Del City, an eastern Oklahoma City suburb located near Tinker Air Force Base, adopted the unit, which includes City Manager Mark Edwards' daughter, Staff Sgt. Rebecca Edwards.

``Every one of these are our adopted sons and daughters. We adopted the whole unit a year ago,'' Mark Edwards said. ``We consider them all to be family now. This was an effort of love on the community's part.''

Wyatt said 152 members of the guard's 245th Engineer Company will be returning from Iraq before Christmas, and about 400 members of the Tulsa-based 138th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard will deploy in the next few weeks to Iraq. Their deployment will last 60 to 75 days.
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