By Hannah Cruz
Greeted by American flags and lots of applause, 32 soldiers with the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team returned home to Oklahoma on Friday after deployment to Afghanistan and Kuwait.
Soldiers were addressed by Gov. Mary Fallin and Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, adjutant general for Oklahoma, at the Norman Armed Forces Reserve Center before embracing waiting and friends and families.
"Welcome home," said Fallin, to the gathered citizen-soldiers. "It's so great to have you home -- there is no place like home. I think you can agree with me today: There's no place like Oklahoma."
His wife's fingers laced between his own, Master Sgt. David Hornback, stood in fatigues reunited with his family for the first time since last February.
A big grin on her face and unwilling to let go, Hornback's daughter, Emma, clung to his neck. Three other children, Devon, Michael and Sarai stood nearby with their grandparents.
His seventh deployment in 18 years, Hornback was one of nearly 2,200 Oklahoma Guardsmen from the 45th deployed to Afghanistan in June. Eight hundred others were sent to Kuwait at the same time.
The 32 returning soldiers are the second group of approximately a dozen groups of 45th soldiers returning at various times as part of a de-mobilization process, according to the Oklahoma National Guard Office of Public Affairs.
Lt. Col. Max E. Moss, director of media relations with the Oklahoma National Guard, said the entire brigade is expected to return to Oklahoma by the end of March.
The Oklahoma National Guard has lost 14 soldiers during this deployment, and a total of 19 since 9/11, Moss said.
Shirley Johannesen, Hornback's mother-in-law, said Hornback's safe return is an answer to her family's prayer.
"I'm unbelievably relieved," she said, with tears in her eyes. "Just speechless. Just so glad to have him back. It's been, oh, you know, all the guys they lost, it was just -- scary. Now we can take a deep breath. He's home. See him with our own eyes, touch him. It's for real, he's home."
Until he can get his fill of his family, Hornback, a Broken Arrow resident, said his plans are pretty simple.
"I don't have any plans right now," he said, laughing.
Fallin said the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs is working on helping veterans integrate back into civilian life more smoothly by providing medical, counseling, educational and employment resources and opportunities.
"It's important to take care of them while they're deployed but it's equally important to take care of them once they return home," she said. "They have a lot of needs. These people have been under dangerous circumstances, they've had a lot of stress, they've seen things that are hard to see, and certainty lived in hard conditions so we want to reintegrate them back into Oklahoma.
" ... So we're going to help them with jobs, help them with medical care, counseling services, we've been working very hard once again to establish those types of programs."