Thursday, June 2, 2011
Oklahoma Army National Guard troops training at Camp Shelby, Miss., for a mission to Afghanistan were surprised Wednesday when Gov. Mary Fallin showed up to meet with them and wish them well.
Fallin spent nearly seven hours at Camp Shelby, located near Hattiesburg, where she ate lunch with the troops, talked to them individually, and also inspected some of the equipment they will be taking to Afghanistan.
About 3,200 soldiers with the Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade have been training for months for the mission, and they will begin leaving for east-central Afghanistan throughout the month of June.
They are expected to remain in Afghanistan for nine months, and they will perform a full array of duties, including combat patrols, working closely with the Afghan national army.
Fallin said the troops have been well-prepared for the mission and noted "they're ready to go."
"I talked with them, about where they were from, their families and work, and of the challenges of leaving children and spouses behind," the governor said.
"But yet they are very committed to their service and the National Guard, and they're excited to go," she said.
Fallin said many of the soldiers have been to Iraq and Afghanistan before, but many others are facing their first overseas mission.
"I think our men and women have been prepared very well," she said. "They're mission-ready, a very cohesive team for the mission at hand," Fallin said.
She said the troops have received some of the finest equipment available for the mission.
The brigade arrived in full force at Camp Shelby in April, where they worked on polishing their basic warfare skills.
In May, however, the brigade was shipped to Louisiana's Fort Polk, where the troops trained at its Joint Readiness Training Center.
The training there involved Oklahoma Guard soldiers working alongside other military units, just as they would in Afghanistan.
That training also helped prepare them for some of the dangers they might face in Afghanistan.
Half of the 45th Infantry Brigade is still at Fort Polk, but is expected to return to Camp Shelby by the end of the week.
In March, Fallin watched the brigade's troops practice at Camp Gruber and, after Wednesday's visit to Camp Shelby, the governor said Oklahoma's soldiers appeared to be more confident about their duties and their mission overall.
Making the trip with Fallin was Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, Oklahoma's adjutant general.
"They've done a fantastic job in training," Deering said of the troops. "They've tested their skills and are ready for the environment they're going to."
He said the soldiers are in great spirits and well-motivated. Deering held out special praise for the brigade's commander, Col. Joel Ward of Claremore.
He said Ward, a Tulsa police officer, made sure the brigade's troops worked well together as a team and focused on taking care of one another.
Ward praised the training at Fort Polk, noting the brigade scored quite a few "best-evers" during four weeks of training there.
Ward also said the troops are well-equipped for the mission, adding that the brigade will also receive more sniper rifles and other extended-range weapons once it arrives in Afghanistan.
Fallin noted that since December 2009, 837 Oklahomans have enlisted with the state National Guard, "knowing they would be deployed to Afghanistan."
"That speaks highly of the people in Oklahoma in their support of the military and the nation," she said.
By MANNY GAMALLO, Tulsa World