By Lori Fullbright, The News On 6
IRAQ -- About 60 Oklahomans are serving a year-long deployment in Iraq as part of Bravo Company within the 2nd-285th, National Guard unit.
When I was embedded with those soldiers, the one thing that really struck me was all they miss during that time away from their families.
These tough, disciplined soldiers look danger in the eye and don't blink; they face the unknown with courage and a toughness most of us will never know.
They do what is asked of them, despite the risk, to accomplish the mission. But, ask them about family and their eyes water and their voices quiver.
"The hardest part is being away from my family," said Crew Chief Angela Rhea, Tahlequah. "I miss my husband."
"The more they make it seem like home, the more you miss it," said Captain Phillip Hemmert, Owasso.
Ten babies have been born to the Oklahoma soldiers during this deployment. They include Riley Hall, Chloe Moss, Juliana and Jenika Henderson, Samantha Sappington, Madeline Welsh, Milly Franks, Hudson McNan and Noah Rutledge.
We met Noah's dad, Chase Rutledge while in Iraq. He's a bit of a cut-up.
"We're safe," he said, ducking. "Yep, we're safe."
Chase is a pilot here and back home and when we met him, Noah's birth was still a few weeks away.
"I have a beautiful wife who is incredibly pregnant," he said.
Each soldier is allowed to go home for one time life events during deployment. We caught up with Chase when he arrived in Oklahoma at the airport, his three older children eager to hug him.
He hasn't kissed his wife or held his children in five months.
"You've grown so big," he said.
Even though he's home for a joyous event, some soldiers aren't so fortunate. A lot happens in the span of a year, not just celebrations, but, also crisis, not just births, but also deaths.
"One had lost a brother, another has a brother who's dying," Chase said. "Another, a specialist, last his two year old son, who drowned, it was a very humbling thought."
That's why Army families supporting each other is so important. Tiffany Hemmert is married to the commander of Bravo Company and heads the family readiness group.
Those left at home during deployment also make great sacrifices, becoming single parents, doing double duty, making it through birthdays, holidays, graduations and every day emergencies, alone, plus loving someone a world away in a war zone.
"You can talk to your soldier as much as you want, but the worry never goes away, ever," Hemmert said. "We all know what they're doing and why they're there and they can tell us all the time they're not in harm's way, but, we worry, that's the hardest part and going to bed alone, that's really hard."
The soldiers all told us the hardest part of serving their country, is not leaving their jobs for a year or living in harsh conditions or working long hours or giving up giving up basic comforts, it's being away from those they love.
The strength and pride of those families, that's what sees them through.
"I don't even think words can explain how proud I am and all our families are of these soldiers," Hemmer said. "That pride just runs so deep."