More than 1,300 Oklahoma National Guardsmen back home for Christmas

Saturday, December 25th 2004, 4:28 pm
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ More than 1,300 Oklahoma National Guardsmen were home with their families this Christmas after being deployed last Dec. 25.

About 680 Oklahoma National Guard troops are deployed this Christmas, military officials said.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Wade knows what they are going through. As a member of the 45th Infantry Brigade's headquarters company, Wade was deployed to Afghanistan. It was his first Christmas away from home.

``Because I missed last year, I feel like I need to make up for it,'' he said.

Wade left home for Fort Carson, Colo., in September 2003 and then left Colorado for Afghanistan two months later. At the time, Christmas was the last thing on his mind.

But as the day grew closer, Wade began to remember what he was missing.

``I'm a yard person,'' he said. ``I like being outside and I enjoy putting my lights up every year. I missed putting those up and being able to see my Christmas tree.''

The Christmas tree went up as usual at the Wade family's Norman home last year, but not the lights.

``There were no lights,'' Donna Wade said. ``He offered to do it before he left, but I didn't want them up until he got back.''

Michael Wade said one of the hardest parts of being away was shopping for the family.

There weren't many places he could shop. A few merchants were allowed at the military base. He bought hand-made items _ jewelry for his daughters, a knife for his father and a scarf for his mother.

``It was pretty slim pickings,'' he said. ``When you are trying to find something that was suitable for a 10-year-old girl, they're not interested in hand-made boxes.''

Christmas is more than lights and shopping, and it was the little things Wade missed most _ the colors and the scents.

Wade said he loves the smell of a real Christmas tree. There were no pine trees in Afghanistan. Most days all he smelled were the tires locals burned to keep warm and the exhaust fumes from diesel vehicles that seemed to be everywhere.

More than seven months later, Mike Wade came home. And being away at Christmas didn't matter anymore.

``When you are gone for a year and then you come home, it seems like ... certain things fall back into place,'' he said. ``You are looking at tomorrow. You are starting new.''