Patriotism, Anxiety Fill Ceremony For Oklahoma Army National Guard Deployment

Thursday, October 18th 2007, 3:14 pm
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Linda White, a small American flag in her hand and a pensive look on her face, gazed out over a crowded arena Thursday at a troop deployment ceremony for members of the Oklahoma Army National Guard who are headed for Iraq.

``I have really mixed feelings about this war. And it scares me to death,'' said White, whose son, Greg Spencer, and about 2,400 other members of Oklahoma's 45th Infantry Brigade are part of the biggest deployment of state guard members since the Korean War.

``We wish we were welcoming him back home instead of going away,'' said White's husband, Army veteran Gary White.

``I just pray that it's not in vain,'' Mrs. White said.

It was standing-room only at the ceremony, as guard members' fathers, mothers, spouses and children filled the University of Oklahoma's 12,000-seat Lloyd Noble Center in an expression of support for the soldiers.

``I really don't know whether the war needed to be fought or not. But we're in it. We need to finish it,'' said Glen Taylor, 70, an Army veteran whose grandson, 20-year-old Pfc. Steven Kessler, is one of the guard members being deployed to Iraq.

``I think he's a little nervous about it,'' said Kessler's father, Bruce Kessler. ``We're praying for him. And we love him.''

``You've got to support them,'' said Sandi Stewart, whose son, Spc. Jason Waters, is also being deployed with the guard. He will join his brother, Daryl Waters, who has been serving in Iraq for the past year.

``This is what they want to do,'' Stewart said.

Oklahoma guard members will travel to Fort Bliss, Texas, one unit at a time beginning on Monday for additional training for their duty in Iraq. Training began this summer when the soldiers qualified with their weapons, became familiar with their equipment and got basic instruction in urban warfare and combat medical training.

Guard members will head to Iraq after Jan. 1. The yearlong deployment includes the training at Fort Bliss, so the soldiers should be home by October 2008, officials said.

Maj. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, Oklahoma's adjutant general, whose own son, Colby Wyatt, is part of the deployment, said he was informed by the Pentagon on Wednesday that additional deployments of Oklahoma guard members could occur as the other soldiers are returning home.

``I know of no other state that could accomplish that mission,'' said Wyatt, adding that soldiers in the 45th Infantry Brigade are the ``best trained, best equipped and best led soldiers in the world.''

Gov. Brad Henry, who has visited state guard members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, joined others in praising the sacrifices made by guard members and their families.

``You are part of a great tradition of Oklahomans who have been called to service,'' Henry said. ``The Oklahoma National Guard has a legacy of service and professionalism.

``We shall be praying for your swift and safe return home,'' the governor said.

``We care about you more than any of us can possibly express,'' said University of Oklahoma President David Boren, a former Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator who once commanded a guard unit.

``We will never forget your service,'' Boren said. ``You represent the best of our values.''

Brig. Gen. Myles Deering, commander of the brigade, said Oklahoma guard members are the best soldiers the nation has to offer in the Iraq war.

``They see clearly the responsibility of living in a freedom-loving society,'' Deering said. ``They will make Oklahoma proud.''

Created in 1923, Oklahoma's 45th Infantry Division remained on active duty for five years during World War II. The Division was in combat for 511 days and captured 103,367 enemy prisoners, fighting in Sicily, Italy, southern France and Germany. The division also liberated the Nazi death camp at Dachau.

The division fought in Korea in four campaigns during 429 days of combat, including engagements at Old Baldy, Pork Chop Hill and Heartbreak Ridge.

The division was retired in 1968 and reorganized into three separate commands: the 45th Infantry Brigade, the 45th Field Artillery Brigade and the 90th Troop Command.