By Mark Schlachtenhaufen
It was a long, long trip from Afghanistan via bus ride from Camp Shelby, Miss., to the Will Rogers Air National Guard base hangar, but Maj. Kevin Dyer is glad to be back in the Sooner State.
"We arrived there about a week ago tomorrow," Dyer said of Camp Shelby. "Most of that time was spent trying to get the sleep pattern back."
At the end of the bus ride to Oklahoma City, the 200-plus National Guard solders from the 45th Infantry Brigade off loaded, assembled and waited for the hangar doors to open. They were greeted by applause and cheers from hundreds of loved ones and well-wishers.
"It was nice to hear all the shouts and cheers," Dyer said.
During Monday morning's welcome home ceremony state political and military leaders remembered the 14 soldiers who didn't come home. They made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their state and their nation.
They include 2nd Lt. Jered Ewy, 33, of Edmond. He died June 29 while conducting a dismounted patrol in Janak Khetl, Afghanistan. He was a gymnastics coach to many children. He is survived by his wife and an infant daughter.
Ewy was one of the first members in the military to serve in Afghanistan where he was serving his third tour; many soldiers have served multiple tours. Nearly 2,200 Oklahoma Guardsmen from the 45th deployed to Afghanistan last June while another 800 were sent to Kuwait. About half the brigade is still serving overseas, but they are expected to return in the coming weeks.
Another group of about 200 soldiers was scheduled to be welcomed home Tuesday morning.
Gov. Mary Fallin said it is a great honor to be able to say welcome home to the soldiers and she thanked them on behalf of the state for their sacrifice, service and commitment to defend the nation. She also thanked their family members for their sacrifices.
"We know that service in the military is a great sacrifice," Fallin said. "It's a great sacrifice because these soldiers leave their work, they leave their families, they leave their communities. The families have soldiers that miss birthdays, holidays, births of children, anniversaries."
The governor said the state stands ready to assist them with their return to their civilian jobs.
Fallin also mentioned the soldiers who died. She personally addressed Surana Prince, the wife of Sgt. Mycal Prince, 28, of Minco. He died in Afghanistan on Sept. 15. in Laghman province from injuries suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.
"I want you to know that your sacrifice will never be forgotten and our hearts are broken for you," the governor said as she looked at the family members seated near the podium. "We have such great respect for Sgt. Prince and to the family, and you will continue to be in our hearts and our prayers, along with all the other families who have made this ultimate sacrifice."
U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Edmond, told the soldiers Oklahomans had been waiting for this moment for a long time. He thanked the soldiers and their family members for their sacrifices.
"Because of your calling, courage and your love of country you set aside your security for a season," Lankford said. "You toured the noise of conflict while we lived in quiet safety. For that we say thank you. You put your lives on the line for our freedom and for a people you had never even met."
Lankford said when he was in Afghanistan a few months ago soldiers wanted to know about what was happening back home with the I-40 Crosstown, the Oklahoma City Thunder and football season. They wanted to know that somewhere in the world things are normal, he said.
"I want to tell you when you come home to Oklahoma you're gonna find incredible, great affection for you and things have continued on," he said. "So we're thrilled to be able to have you home. Your families are waiting for you. Your bed is waiting for you. And SONIC drinks are still half price starting at 2 o'clock today."
Lankford said the soldiers will always be a proud part of the history of the 45th. He also honored those who died.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, echoed the sentiments about those who did not come back. He recalled being with the troops when they deployed from Camp Shelby.
"You've done the Lord's work. He'll richly bless you for it. Welcome home," Inhofe said concluding his brief speech.
Maj. Gen. Myles L. Deering, adjutant general for Oklahoma, also addressed the soldiers and their families. He advised the soldiers to ease back into civilian life.