Families, Switzer give returning Guard troops hero welcome
BY SHANNON MUCHMORE World Staff Writer
Saturday, March 17, 2012
3/17/12 at 3:45 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY - There was one place this St. Patrick's Day where the color green was nowhere near as popular as red, white and blue.
Family and friends welcomed home more than 260 members of the Oklahoma National Guard 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team on Saturday, the largest single group to return from Afghanistan and Kuwait since the beginning of the year.
They were returning from a year-long deployment. A ceremony planned for Sunday was canceled, as those soldiers returned home Saturday.
More than 3,000 soldiers were deployed last summer, and about 300 came home last week during three ceremonies. More will continue arriving back in Oklahoma through the end of the month.
"I don't even know how to describe it," Emily Bussear said of waiting for her fiancé, Spc. James House II.
Upon reuniting with her and his mom and dad, the soldier said he was excited, happy and relieved.
In addition to his family, he missed his truck and his dog while he was away. He's eager to spend time with all of them, he said.
"It's the freedom to do what I want," he said.
Former University of Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, himself a veteran, addressed the troops.
He welcomed them back and said that he understands the importance of being part of a team.
“There is no greater team than the U.S. Army,” he said.
The 14 Oklahoma National Guard soldiers who died during deployment were also honored and family members of the fallen were recognized.
The large crowd at the Will Rogers Air National Guard Base carried balloons, homemade posters and miniature American flags as they waited eagerly for their soldiers, who were delayed by about half an hour.
“I’m ready for him to get here,” Jessica Slack said, referring to her husband, Cpl. Dustin Slack. He was returning from this third deployment.
Their daughters, 7 and 5 years old, waited for their dad in identical American flag dresses. The family is planning some barbecues and other activities this weekend.
Maj. Gen. Rita Aragon told the soldiers everyone in the room was incredibly proud of them.
“We are so glad to have you back in red dirt country,” she said. “Welcome home.”
Spc. Anthony Gillilan of Stillwater, hugs his mother Gail Gillilan during the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team homecoming ceremony in Oklahoma City on Saturday. ALONZO ADAMS/Tulsa World
Members of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team stand in formation during a homecoming ceremony in Oklahoma City on Saturday. ALONZO ADAMS/Tulsa World
Three-year-old Elissa of Tulsa, waits for a family member to return during a homecoming ceremony for the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Oklahoma City on Saturday. ALONZO ADAMS/Tulsa World