Oklahoma lost four of its National Guardsmen in a week of fighting in Afghanistan.
Despite multiple deployments since 9/11, the Guard's casualty numbers have been low — until now. In seven days, the number of Oklahoma National Guardsmen killed in the line of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan went from five to nine.
It's a pace that has the state's military leaders worried for the morale of their soldiers' friends and loved ones. About 2,200 Oklahoma Guardsmen with the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team are in Afghanistan, and each have family members who are left home to worry.
“Seeing casualties anytime is extremely difficult for all of us, but the families of deployed guardsmen obviously feel a heightened sense of burden any time their loved one is deployed to a war zone,” said Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, the state's adjutant general.
“Being the father of a formerly deployed soldier, I know what these families are going through. It is the unknown.”
John Ewy knows the feeling. His son, 2nd Lt. Jared Ewy, of Edmond, was one of two guardsmen killed July 29 when they were attacked with a homemade bomb.
“He was a special young man,” John Ewy said. “He touched an awful lot of lives. I pray every day for the men and women that are over there.”
Previous casualties kept low
Three Oklahoma Guardsmen died in a 2008 helicopter crash in Iraq.
One died in Afghanistan in 2007, and another was killed while serving in Iraq in 2004.
Considering that thousands of Oklahoma National Guardsmen have served multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the casualty numbers could easily be much higher.
Deering led the 45th during its last major deployment, when the unit went to Iraq in 2008. When that deployment was announced, casualties in Iraq were at their highest point.
But by the time the 2,700 Oklahoma troops arrived, an increase in soldiers on the ground, called “the surge,” had begun to improve security in the country.
Overall casualties for the U.S. and its allies went from 961 lost in 2007 to 322 the following year.
Deering said many factors kept casualties down during that deployment.
“First of all, there was the mission,” Deering said. “Most of the soldiers involved in the 2008 mission to Iraq were supporting detainee operations and not involved in direct combat operations, as they are doing in Afghanistan.”
There were some smaller elements of the Guard involved in more dangerous missions, Deering said.
“But by that time, we were also beginning to feel the turn towards stability in Iraq as a result of the surge, even though it was a very dangerous place,” he said.
Conversely, Afghanistan is much more dangerous now than it was when the U.S. was focusing its military efforts more heavily in Iraq.
Casualties in Afghanistan have gone up every year since 2003. In 2010, 711 coalition troops were lost in Afghanistan, more than double the rate of casualties from two years before.