Legislators saluted the Oklahoma National Guard on Tuesday as about 3,300 of its soldiers prepare to be deployed in June to Afghanistan.
The final group of units making up the Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team will leave soon for training in Camp Shelby, Miss., Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, the state adjutant general, told a joint session of the Legislature.
Deering left later in the day to visit with his troops at Camp Shelby. He won't be leading the brigade to Afghanistan during its yearlong deployment; the commander will be Col. Joel Ward, a Tulsa police officer.
“I'd much rather go with them,” Deering said. “They've got a very capable commander in Col. Ward and they received the best training they could possibly receive. I would put the training that we give our soldiers here in Oklahoma up against any training there is in the world.”
Army and Air National Guard members and their families filled the galleries in the House of Representatives chamber for the 45th Infantry Division Appreciation Day ceremony.
“Our National Guard is always ready to answer the call,” Gov. Mary Fallin said.
Members of the National Guard spent the last couple weeks helping to fight wildfires, she said. Last winter, the National Guard helped rescue about 175 motorists who were stranded in snowstorms.
Fallin said the National Guard is the glue that binds America together.
“Your service keeps our families safe and continues to make freedom possible,” she said.
The ceremony was a homecoming for Rex Duncan, a colonel in the National Guard and former Republican House member from Sand Springs. Duncan, who didn't seek re-election last year, was elected district attorney for Pawnee and Osage counties.
The deployment is Duncan's second as a member of the Oklahoma National Guard. He said his first was for 16 months in 2002-03. He served primarily in Qatar and the Horn of Africa, but also spent some time in Iraq and Afghanistan.