About 2,300 Oklahoma National Guard troops returned to the state Thursday after spending a month searching for survivors and restoring order in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Humvees and trucks started arriving about noon at the Oklahoma National Guard Armory on NE 23 in Oklahoma City. Soldiers talked about their experiences as they unloaded their vehicles. "New Orleans got destroyed, Staff Sgt. Charles Dutton said. "They had gangs that were causing problems down there. We did a lot of mounted patrolling just to try to keep people who chose to stay in the area safe. The Oklahoma soldiers were assigned to the heart of New Orleans. Their commander, Brig. Gen. Myles Deering, eventually was put in charge of Task Force New Orleans, a collection of more than 20,000 active duty and National Guard troops from several states. Deering said the troops were attached to the 45th Infantry Brigade because commanders realized the Oklahoma troops knew what they were doing. "I think it says a lot about the Oklahoma Guard, Deering said. "We've had a tremendous amount of our soldiers who have been to combat both in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo. These soldiers are seasoned. They were prepared to do the mission, and they did it. Many of the troops sent to New Orleans recently had served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Spc. Tonya Stephens of Moore was married July 4, between deployments. Her husband, 1st Lt. John T. Stephens, was deployed to New Orleans with her. But the two barely saw one another because they serve in different Guard units. The troops initially focused on search and rescue and basic security. Many people still were stranded on rooftops when the Oklahoma soldiers arrived. Deering said the mission was similar to the Guard's efforts after the April 19, 1995, bombing in Oklahoma City and the May 3, 1999, tornadoes, though the devastation in New Orleans was more widespread. "Oklahomans know how to respond, Deering said. "We've experienced these kind of tragedies, though not on the scale that we experienced here. The response, how you plan, how you resource these activities, are similar. About half the city was devastated either by wind or floodwaters, Deering said. "It will take years to recover from Hurricane Katrina, he said. "This is not a short-term process. New Orleans may not look the same.
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State guardsman injured in New Orleans mission One Oklahoma soldier did not return Thursday with the rest of the National Guard task force that served in New Orleans for the past month. Staff Sgt. Chester Richards of Oklahoma City was hurt in an auto accident in New Orleans last month, Brig. Gen. Myles Deering said. The wreck happened Sept. 12 when a civilian vehicle in New Orleans hit a Humvee troop carrier. Richards was riding in the back. The National Guard flew his family to New Orleans the next day, and Richards was airlifted to Brooks Army Hospital, where he is still hospitalized. Military officials said he has spent the past several weeks in intensive care, and it is unknown whether he will fully recover. More information about Richards’ condition was unavailable.