State welcomes home 171 more soldiers
BY JERRY WOFFORD World Staff Writer
Saturday, March 31, 2012
3/31/12 at 7:13 AM
View photos and an interactive map of the 45th Infantry Brigade of the
Oklahoma Army National Guard.
OKLAHOMA CITY - At least two people were missing from the party that welcomed home Spc. Victoria Saldierna: her kids.
But that was part of the Chelsea soldier's plan. They thought she was coming back from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan next week. Instead, she arrived Friday and quickly left the hangar to go surprise them at school.
"They don't know I'm here," Saldierna said. "It's going to be a great surprise."
Her parents and sister were there to greet her, along with scores of other families and friends who cheered for their loved ones as 171 soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team walked through the hangar doors at the Will Rogers Air National Guard Base. It was the latest group to return from the dangerous deployment.
Friday's group included the brigade commander, Col. Joel Ward. A Tulsa Police Department corporal, Ward congratulated the troops for a job well done and thanked the families for their support throughout the deployment.
"Your Thunderbirds have achieved great things," Ward said. "Our soldiers answered our nation's call and met its every need."
Saldierna's family was also proud of their soldier.
"I wanted to get up and run," said Nancy Ramirez, Saldierna's sister, about when she first saw her. "But my mom kept telling me to sit down."
But deep down, their mother, Aleyda Bazaldna, probably wanted to run, too.
"We love her, and we missed her so much," she said.
Saldierna served as Ward's administrative assistant, so she had a unique perspective on the brigade's operations. She said it was a hard deployment, which was made even more difficult as 14 Oklahoma soldiers were killed in action.
"We kept on going because we knew we had more troops on the ground," she said.
In Ward's address to the soldiers before dismissing them to their loved ones, he said the soldiers and all Oklahomans should never forget their sacrifice.
"They always have to be on our forefront," he said. "Your lasting mission is to make sure those soldiers are never forgotten."
Family members of several of those fallen soldiers attended Friday's homecoming and received a standing ovation from the hundreds of people in the audience.
In a short ceremony after the soldiers marched into the hangar, the flag of the 45th Infantry Brigade was uncased and placed on the stage, marking a ceremonial transfer of command back to Oklahoma.
Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, adjutant general for Oklahoma, was there to see to the troops' return.
"I can remember just a few months ago when we cased those colors and the feeling of loneliness in my heart because I knew where you were going," he said.
In all, more than 3,000 members of the 45th were deployed last summer. About 2,200 of them went to Afghanistan, and 800 were deployed to Kuwait.
About 650 soldiers still await their homecoming ceremony, but all of them are in various stages of demobilization and should be back in the state in the next couple of weeks.
Another group is due back in Oklahoma at 10 a.m. Saturday at the air base. The event is open to the public.
Original Print Headline: Oklahoma welcomes home 171 more soldiers from 45th
Jerry Wofford 918-581-8310
Col. Joel Ward (right), 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team commander, speaks to Spc. Victoria Saldierna's family after a homecoming ceremony for the brigade in Oklahoma City on Friday. Saldierna (second from right) quickly left the event to surprise her children at school. ALONZO J. ADAMS/for the Tulsa World
Members of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team unveil the colors before the start of a homecoming ceremony in Oklahoma City on Friday. ALONZO J. ADAMS/for the Tulsa World