Ashli Sims, News On 6
TULSA, Oklahoma – The Oklahoma National Guards 45th Infantry has sustained a string of losses over the last couple of weeks.
It's the largest deployment of the volunteer unit since the Korean War and leaders say this mission is much riskier than previous assignments.
When the 45th was called up in 2008, it was more of a support mission, dealing with detainees. This time, military leaders say the 45th is on the frontlines.
It was a cheer of jubilation amplified by a healthy dose of relief at Tulsa International Airport Wednesday. All 29 members of the 138th Security Forces came home, safe and sound.
"Excellent; a great feeling. It can't be explained, to be back home with my family," Master Sergeant Carl Stout said.
Excited to see their biological families, but saddened by the losses suffered by their military one. They've lost seven fellow Oklahoma National Guard members from the 45th Infantry Brigade in less than four weeks.
"It's actually pretty difficult. Because believe it or not Bagram Air Force Base is a central location in Afghanistan, so we see every single troop that has passed," Captain Chris Rogalski said.
With the largest call up of the 45th in decades, there are simply more boots on the ground and they're walking in the danger zone.
"It's a very dangerous mission," Major General Myles Deering said. "They all knew that going in, but that doesn't make it any easier. And we all suffer a little bit with the losses that they have had."
Major General Myles Deering says the 45th is spread out all over eastern Afghanistan and they're engaging in frontline combat. Even though the latest string of casualties didn't hit their unit directly, the news had many of these families embracing their loved ones and leaning on their faith.
"Pray, faith in God and in the military. We really do," military dad Craig Willemstein said.
"We just have to leave that in God's hands. We just pray each and every day that God will build a hedge of protection around them. And they will come home safe," one woman said.
And the head of Oklahoma's National Guard says despite the losses, the 45th is strong and determined.
"But they're doing great," Deering said. "I've talked to them. We're in regular conversation with the leadership over there and they're keeping their heads up."
Before July 29, 2011, the Oklahoma National Guard had lost only five members since 9/11. The total number of casualties for the guard is now 12, so it's more than doubled in just a few weeks.