TULSA (AP) — About 2,600 Oklahoma Army National Guard troops who are part of the biggest deployment of state guard members since the Korean War will begin returning from Iraq within three months, according to National Guard officials.
But as those soldiers prepare to return, another 850 troops with the Enid-based 45th Fires Brigade will be getting ready to head to Iraq to provide base and convoy security.
The returning soldiers, all part of the 45th Infantry Brigade, received their mobilization orders on Oct. 19, 2007, and the clock on their one-year deployment began ticking on that date.
Col. Pat Scully, Guard spokesman, said all of the troops should be back in Oklahoma by mid-October, and that a welcome-back ceremony for them will be planned for a later date.
Scully noted the troops will begin returning in small groups, probably spaced out over a week. He said they will all return by Oct. 19 at the latest.
Before they headed to Iraq in January, the troops spent more than two months in mission-specific training at Fort Bliss, near El Paso, Texas.
When the troops return from Iraq, they will first head to Fort Bliss for a day or two to be processed out, and then they will return to Oklahoma, Scully said.
For the most part, Oklahoma’s troops are providing security in Iraq. The bulk are at the “Green Zone” in central Baghdad and at Camp Cropper, near that city’s airport.
Although they’ve been in Iraq since January, more than half of the troops have been home on two-week leaves.
Scully said a send-off ceremony for the Enid-based 45th Fires Brigade is set for Aug. 16 in Oklahoma City. Afterward, Scully said the troops will head to Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas, for 60 to 90 days of more intensive training. They will leave for Iraq and Kuwait from Fort Hood.
Scully said the Fires Brigade’s deployment is for a year, and that those troops should be returning to Oklahoma by August 2009.
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Air National Guard is planning to send about 300 troops to Iraq in September for a two-month tour of duty.
Those troops — fighter pilots, flight technicians and air controllers — are part of the 125th Fighter Squadron attached to the Tulsa-based 138th Fighter Wing. They will be stationed at the Balad Air Base, 40 miles north of Baghdad.
It will be the ninth combat deployment for the 138th Fighter Wing to the Iraqi theater.
Last year, the 138th Fighter Wing sent 300 of its personnel to Iraq for two months. While there, Oklahoma’s pilots made a name for themselves when they took out an al-Qaida training base shortly after they arrived.
Scully said another batch of Oklahoma troops will be headed to Iraq in February for 12 months of duty. He said some 20 troops with the 145th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment will be leaving.