Sixty-three men and women of the 45th Oklahoma National Guard are returning to a normal life in the Sooner State after a long deployment in Afghanistan.
Family and friends cheer as the hangar doors open at the Will Rogers Air National Guard, and 63 Thunderbird members march into the building.
Kayla English holds her six-month old son, Bryce close to her happy to reintroduce him to his father, Corporal Joseph English who has been away for nearly a year.
“It has been a struggle. Obviously, he was born while daddy was overseas. He got to come home for 15 days for the birth but he hasn’t seen him basically since he was born, so we’re pretty excited to remeet dad.”
Corporal English gets a chance to kiss his wife and hold his son, and after his first deployment, is ready to spend some time with his family.
“He’s grown a lot. The last time I saw him he was 11 days old. So, he doesn’t quite know me yet, but I plan on changing that. I’m pretty proud of him.”
While it was a big celebration, there were also some bittersweet moments as Corporal English recalls the 14 who didn’t return from the war.
“They gave the ultimate sacrifice, and it’s hard to deal with, I mean, I didn’t know any of them personally so I can’t imagine what their families are going through. But, all I can say is thank you to them and to their families.”
More than 2,800 soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan last year while about 800 went to Kuwait.
Thunderbird officials say about 60% of those deployed will be returning over the next several weeks.