NORMAN — Samantha Arnold and her sisters took off running as soon as the commanding officer dismissed members of the 2-45th Agribusiness Development Team on Saturday afternoon.
The soldiers, who were gathered at the Norman Armed Forces Reserve Center, had just returned from a 10-month deployment to Afghanistan. Their families and friends were waiting to greet them with signs, cameras and balloons.
Arnold, 15, and her sisters, Kiersten, 12, and Kaitlin, 18, of Broken Arrow, ran straight into their father's arms — almost. They had to dodge other eager family members in the crowd on their way.
Lt. Col. Bruce Arnold wrapped his three girls in a giant hug.
They were soon surrounded by a group of family and friends.
Bruce Arnold was one of 64 members of the 2-45th Agribusiness Development Team who were honored Saturday. Before the team left for Afghanistan in September 2010, Col. Robert Roshell, the team's commander, said their primary mission was to return everyone home safely.
“Sir,” Roshell said, turning to Maj. Gen. Myles Deering on Saturday.
The room erupted in applause.
The soldiers' return was bittersweet. Four Oklahoma National Guardsmen with the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were killed in Afghanistan within seven days of each other, and 30 U.S. special operation troops died this weekend when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. Soldiers and their loved ones who gathered in Norman on Saturday held two moments of silence.
The 2-45th Agribusiness Development Team worked with the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team for about a month, Roshell said.
The Agribusiness Development Team managed projects on an area about the size of New Jersey in the Paktia province of Afghanistan. The soldiers completed 32 agriculture projects totaling $3.3 million that will affect more than 75 villages and more than 200,000 Afghans, according to information provided by the Oklahoma National Guard.
Sgt. Kyle Collier returned Saturday from his third deployment. His first two deployments were to Iraq.
After the crowd died down, Collier listened to his 5-year-old son, Landen, talk about four-wheelers.
Collier rubbed his son's head and smiled.
“He's my little mini me,” Collier said. “He's a special part of me.”
MeKenzie Smith, 18 months, couldn't wait to see her dad, Spc. Vernon Smith. MeKenzie walked toward him slowly at first, but she reached for him as soon as she recognized him, her mom, Heather, said.
Heather Smith, 23, of Jones, said she was ready for life to get back to normal. She talked to her husband about once a week while he was deployed.
“It's great to have him back,” she said.
The Arnold girls were planning to celebrate their dad's homecoming however he wanted Saturday afternoon.
During the past 10 months, Bruce Arnold missed Samantha starting high school and Kiersten starting middle school. He also missed his first family vacation to Colorado. But he returned just in time to help Kaitlin move to Oklahoma State University, where she will be a freshman in the fall.
Samantha Arnold has a list of movies she wants to watch with her dad, including “Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon” and “Cowboys and Aliens.”
She said she's proud of her dad for wanting to help people.
“I really look up to him,” Samantha Arnold said.