Wednesday, December 5, 2012
NORMAN, Okla. – Pride and patriotism were on full display this past Veterans Day weekend, as Oklahoma Army National Guardsmen from across the state came out in full force to take part in a number of events honoring the nation’s heroes both past and present.
The Guardsmen participated in parades and ceremonies from Blanchard to Stillwater and many towns in between. But the highlight on Saturday was a Military Appreciation Day hosted by the University of Oklahoma during their Big XII college football game opposite the visiting Baylor Bears.
The University rolled out the red carpet for the Oklahoma troops, providing some 200 tickets to the game and routinely recognizing Soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), who recently returned to their headquarters in Norman from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
“It’s a true honor to be part of a sporting event like this,” said Maj. Gen. Myles Deering, adjutant general for Oklahoma.
Deering went on to say the recognition “is a true testimony to OU being willing to honor our Soldiers.”
University of Oklahoma President David Boren, Athletic Director Joe Castiglione and OU Regent Dr. Leslie Rainbolt-Forbes got the action started early by presenting retired Col. Joel Ward with a game ball about 20 minutes before game time. Ward retired earlier this year after leadinging the 45th IBCT in Afghanistan.
“It’s great when the state and the University recognize our veterans,” Ward said. “Oklahoma is the best state in the nation to be a Soldier and the University of Oklahoma epitomizes that.”
While in Afghanistan, the 45th IBCT fell under the command of Brig. Gen. James M. Richardson, deputy commanding general for support with the 1st Cavalry Division. Richardson made the drive up from Fort Hood, Texas, to attend the game and participate in the Veterans Day ceremony in Norman. He currently serves as the deputy commanding general of III Corps and the Army’s premier installation for heavy forces.
“I wouldn’t want to be any other place,” said Richardson, whose installation also hosted the 45th IBCT for their pre-mobilization training leading up to their deployment. “They were a team of teams and I was very fortunate to have been a part of it.”
Richardson said the state and the nation can be extremely proud of the 45th IBCT’s accomplishments.
“Being able to reunite with those I served with is a blessing,” he said. “It’s very humbling.”
Also attending the pre-game ceremony was 45th IBCT Command Sgt. Major Robert Maxwell and 1st Lt. Christopher Leblo, a member of Company A, 700th Brigade Support Battalion, who was representing the Brigade’s wounded warriors.
Leblo, who was assigned as a transportation platoon leader at Forward Operating Base Gamberi, was injured during a vehicle recovery operation.
Leblo said he was out of action for two weeks after breaking his foot and wrist in the accident. He said the Brigade wanted to send him home, but “I just told them to wrap it up and give me some Motrin, because I didn’t want to go home.”
The Brigade lost 14 Soldiers on their last deployment and still has nearly 250 injured troops in Warrior Transition Units around the country, waiting to be cleared. As a result, Leblo said he has mixed feelings about being honored.
“I’m extremely honored to be representing all the WTU members and injured Soldiers of the 45th IBCT,” he said. “On the flip side, there were a number of Soldiers who were more severely wounded than me, so it’s very humbling.”
“It’s really a great honor,” Maxwell said. “I have to give a big pat on the back to the University for inviting us out and for their support of the 45th IBCT.”
Four F-16 Fighting Falcons with the 93rd Fighter Squadron from Homestead Air Reserve Base near Miama, Fla., brought the sold-out crowd of nearly 85,000 to their feet with a flyover at the conclusion of the National Anthem.
The crew of Lt. Col. Joe Feheley, Lt. Col. Matt Fritz, Maj. Robin Lytle and 1st Lt. Dan Lint were recognized on the field between the third and fourth quarter. Lytle is a 1995 graduate of OU as is Maj. Jeff Milburn, a member of the 507th Air Refueling Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, who provided the communications with the crew from the ground.
The final presentation of the day came early in the fourth quarter when Castiglione and OU Regent Richard Dunning presented Deering, Lt. Col. Tom Mancino, commander of the 45th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, and his executive officer, Maj. David Mackey, with a framed patriotic photo of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium taken during the OU-Notre Dame game two weeks earlier.
“OU was proud to provide an opportunity for all Oklahomans to express our deep gratitude for the sacrifices made by troops for our country and for preserving our freedom,” said Boren.
“The huge ovation from the 85,000-plus fans at the game sent a powerful message of support,” Boren added.
Also on Saturday, the 45th Infantry Division Museum in Oklahoma City hosted its annual Veterans Day ceremony on the Museum grounds. Keynote speaker for the event was current 45th IBCT Commander, Col. Van Kinchen. The event also featured National Guard Soldiers dressed in period uniforms from the Civil War to present day.
Soldiers from the 45th IBCT, 45th Fires Brigade, headquartered in Mustang, and the 90th Troop Command, headquartered in Oklahoma City, participated in Veterans Day parades in Blanchard, Wewoka, Stillwater, Midwest City, Chandler and Norman, which also hosted a number of static displays and a memorial ceremony at Reaves Park on Sunday.
The solemn memorial ceremony included an F-16 flyover, musical performance by the 77th Army Band from Fort Sill, Okla., , comments from retired Maj. Gen. Brad Gambill, Brig. Gen. Richardson and Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal, a 21-gun salute and the playing of Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.
The ceremony also featured Deering reading the names of all 19 fallen Oklahoma Army National Guard Soldiers, who have made the ultimate sacrifice since the beginning of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
Gambill, former 45th Infantry Brigade commander and chairman of the Norman veterans committee, was one of the main organizers of the memorial ceremony and was instrumental in helping to bring Richardson up from Fort Hood.
“He was really excited,” Gambill said of Richardson’s participation in the Veterans Day activities. “With the 45th being headquartered here in Norman, this has been like a homecoming of sorts. This means a lot to the veterans and to the Oklahoma Army National Guard.”
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