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Soldiers' homecoming scores win with Shawnee family

About 130 citizen soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team returning from Afghanistan arrived Saturday at the Army Aviation hangar at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City.
by Juliana Keeping Published: March 4, 2012

In Noah Leach's 2-year old mind, his daddy has been flying in a plane for a period of time that stretched on and on.

That's why since his father left in June, Noah has pointed, and exclaimed, “Daddy!” every single time he saw a plane.

Thomas Leach, of Shawnee, was at war in Afghanistan with the Oklahoma National Guard. The staff sergeant ran troop medical clinics at Bagram Air Field and at a base in Nangarhar province, using his skills as a physical therapy assistant.

On Saturday, Thomas Leach got off the plane that had been ever circling the skies in his youngest son's version of a deployment to war.

Holly Leach swept her son Noah's short brown hair into the tiniest of mohawks as the doors cracked open about 10:30 a.m. About 130 citizen soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team appeared at the Army Aviation hangar at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City.

While there have been four groups of soldiers that have come home already since 3,000 deployed in June to Kuwait and Afghanistan, this fifth group of about 130 is the largest, the most significant, Col. Mike Chase, the 45th's rear commander, told the crowd.

It marks the beginning of the end, the true start of demobilization for the 45th.

Costly deployment

It has been a heart-wrenching deployment. Fourteen of the 45th's citizen soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since July. In the hangar, their pictures were displayed on easels, a silent reminder of what had been lost.

A soldier attending the welcome home ceremony lingered on one of the faces for a long while, smiling, as if calling up a happy memory.

U.S. Rep James Lankford and Maj. Gen Myles Deering, the adjutant general for Oklahoma, also shared brief remarks.

Noah did not listen; he could only squeal and point as his mother hoisted him up above the crowd to see his dad. As the officials spoke, family members stood, and then crept into the aisles and toward their soldiers, waiting for the end of the speeches. The air was electric with anticipation, emotion.

Noah, released from his mother's arms, ran to his father ahead of the crowd. Thomas Leach bent to pick up his son, who threw tiny arms around his father's neck. Noah clung to him for hours afterward.

“I knew you would come, daddy. I knew you would come,” Noah said, over and over.

The families rushed forward to greet the guardsmen, including Holly and their other son, Tommy, 10, a soccer player who missed his dad, perhaps more than anyone, said his mother.

“A 10-year-old boy just needs his dad,” she said.

Thomas Leach had coached Tommy's team and now will again. A caravan of close family friends and relatives came to greet Sgt. Thomas Leach.

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by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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