About 2,600 soldiers from the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade are making final preparations for deployment to Iraq following a send-off ceremony at the University of Oklahoma’s Lloyd Noble Center last week.

The deployment is the largest for the brigade since the Korean War, Altebaumer said. About 150 of the soldiers are women, and “a lot” of the National Guard members are from the Edmond area, he said. Earlier estimates listed at least 65 soldiers from the Edmond unit.

Lt. Col. John Altebaumer, a National Guard spokesman, said the soldiers are working at various armories across the state before moving to their mobilization station in Fort Bliss, Texas.

“As you can imagine, soldiers go with a tremendous amount of baggage,” Altebaumer said, adding that massive amounts of equipment are being loaded onto trucks this week in preparation for the move.

“Soldiers are building pallets, doing final paperwork and preparing families for the deployment,” he said. “We’re taking care of payroll items and other issues for the soldiers and their families. It’s just all the behind-the-scenes preparation that has to be done.”

One of those soldiers is PFC Stephen Vernon, 23, of Edmond.

“It’s kind of like a sad pride, I guess,” said his father, Tim Vernon. “I’m real proud of him, but at the same time of course I’m kind of sad. I have a sense of peace about it, but I’m going to miss him, too.”

At Fort Bliss, the soldiers will be assigned to one of 22 specific units involving security and detention missions in the Middle East. In January, they will ship out for Iraq.

“Their mobilization is for one year, starting last Friday, so about September of next year you will start to see these soldiers coming back home,” Altebaumer said Monday.

Although the Edmond armory is not deploying as a unit, members are serving as attachments to other units in Oklahoma, said Karen Sandlin, local National Guard recruiter.

“The (Edmond) unit is about 130 people, and only about 20 are not going in this deployment,” she said.

The 45th Infantry Brigade has taken part in every American conflict since World War II. Gen. George S. Patton gave the brigade this compliment: “Born at sea, baptized in blood, your fame shall never die. The 45th Division is one of the best, if not the best, division in American Arms.”

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Army National Guard announced that the 950-member 45th Fires Brigade, headquartered in Enid, have been alerted to a possible mission in Iraq. That means almost half the state’s Guard members could be overseas at the same time, according to Maj. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, Oklahomas adjutant general.

acollinsworth@edmondsun.com |

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