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Oklahoma National Guard's Iraq mission to continue



Gen. David Petraeus' statements before a U.S. Senate hearing this week will have little immediate effect on Oklahoma National Guard soldiers serving in Iraq, according to the unit's commander in Baghdad.

Brig. Gen. Myles Deering said his soldiers are conducting their business as usual as it may be in an area hit frequently with rocket attacks. He is the commander of Oklahoma's 45th Infantry Brigade, aka the Thunderbirds, deployed to different areas of Iraq through the fall in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In his testimony before the U.S. Senate, Petraeus said that progress was made during the "surge" of troops ordered last year by President George W. Bush, but that the progress was "fragile and reversible."

"I think it's a mistake to pull down forces in Iraq. We are making progress," Deering said. "We can only do that by offering the Iraqis some kind of stability, knowing that we are going to be here." 

Deering's unit is assigned to the Joint Area Support Group housed within the International Zone. The area has come under repeated attack since Easter, with rockets or mortars, called "indirect fire," falling almost every day. Although Oklahoma soldiers have had to weather such attacks by ducking into bomb shelters when sirens sound, Deering reported that none have been hurt or killed.

"You always worry when your soldiers are under any fire, either direct or indirect fire. There is always that possibility that someone will be injured or killed," he said. "But the International Zone is a large area. The rockets being fired are generally area-type weapons, not point weapons. So, it's more of a being the wrong place at the wrong time. It's a little bit harrowing, especially at first. But the soldiers have made it through well and I'm extremely proud of them."

Read more about the Thunderbirds in the April 16 Oklahoma Gazette. -Ben Fenwick


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