NORMAN — More than 100 members of the Oklahoma National Guard returned to Norman on Saturday after 10 months in Afghanistan.
The guardsmen are members of the 1245th Transportation Company, based in McAlester.
The soldiers had been providing supplies to U.S. military operations in war-torn Afghanistan, as well as security for themselves and civilian contractors working in the region.
About 1,000 family members, loved ones and friends greeted the soldiers, many of them holding elaborate homemade signs.
Many soldiers were reunited with sons and daughters they had never seen in person before. One young woman leapt into her boyfriend's arms right after the soldiers were dismissed, nearly knocking him over.
Tears, like the rain outside, flowed freely in the reception room at the sprawling Armed Forces Reserve Center in Norman.
Guardsmen Joshua Baker, 26, was nearly speechless as he held his infant daughter, Mikayla, for the first time. When asked what the hardest part of serving 10 months overseas, the soldier had a simple answer.
“Just missing all the moments with her,” he said of his 6-month-old daughter.
Soldier Juston Hatfield, of Tishomingo, was greeted by his son, Devon, 4, as the company made its way inside. Hatfield, 32, never broke stride, picking the boy and carrying him into the formation.
The father and son stayed together — in formation — until the company was dismissed 10 or so minutes later.
“Very hard not to cry,” Hatfield said. “We were just chatting, he was telling me that he got a haircut right before they came up here and letting me know all the things I missed.”
Hatfield, who completed his second deployment overseas, said he looks forward to “spending as much time as I can” with his son.
“The availability of family, that something you miss a lot when you're over there,” he said. “We get to talk to them, when we're over there, but it's not the same as this.”
Maj. Gen. Myles Deering cautioned the soldiers to “not to do all your celebrating tonight,” and jokingly advised them to stay off motorcycles for “at least 30 days.”
Deering also commended the soldiers' family members for being a strong support system for the men and women in the company.
Officials at the massive Armed Forces Reserve Center said Saturday's welcome-home crowd was likely the largest one ever at the facility.
Hundreds of people were sitting in chairs and as many, if not more, were standing.
“It may be raining outside ... but there's plenty of sunshine in here,” Deering said.