NORMAN — Less than five seconds after he was dismissed by his commander, Spc. A.J. Carter was holding his 2-week-old son, Braden, in his arms.
Carter, of Okmulgee, was among 29 Oklahoma National Guard soldiers who returned Thursday from Afghanistan. Family and friends welcomed them home during a ceremony at the Norman Armed Forces Reserve Center.
They were able to come home a bit early because of a reduction in U.S. troops in Afghanistan. About 2,200 soldiers with the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team are still in Afghanistan and should return by March.
Several of the soldiers returning Thursday had new members of the family to get acquainted with.
“I was luckily home on leave when he was born,” Carter said.
Carter's wife, Kim, had an emergency C-section Dec. 29. She said the deployment was tough because she was pregnant, but also because it was easy for her mind to wander and worry about her husband.
The 45th has lost 14 soldiers since the group deployed to Afghanistan in June.
“I'm really happy to have him back,” Kim Carter said. “I was scared he might not come home. Being pregnant made it tougher.”
Spc. Richard Higgins, of Kingston, also got a chance to hold his son on Thursday. Higgins said he was home on leave when his son, Bryson, was born about four months ago, but he has to make up for plenty of lost time.
“I have to get to know him,” Higgins said. “It made it tougher not being there for him.”
Higgins' wife, Shayla, said she has joked that Bryson knew his father was gone and was unusually well-behaved for a newborn.
“It was a lot harder having him leave when I was six-months pregnant,” Shayla Higgins said. “He is a great baby, though.”
Brig. Gen. Robbie Asher, director of joint staff for the Oklahoma National Guard, told the soldiers before they were dismissed that adjusting to life at home is a long process.
“The soldiers of the 45th Infantry Brigade had a very long, tough and challenging year,” Asher said. “You've changed. Your family has changed. Give yourself some time to get reacquainted to the family.”