Friday, November 9, 2007

Henry Announces National Guard Holiday Initiative

Governor Brad Henry today announced a statewide initiative, "Operation Holiday Homecoming," aimed at bringing National Guard troops home for the Christmas holidays.
Joined by state military and veterans affairs leaders at a Capitol news conference, Henry urged Oklahomans to donate to an American Legion of Oklahoma fund that will enable members of the 45th Infantry Brigade to be home from Dec. 23 to Jan 2.
"Oklahomans believe in the importance of family and, as our soldiers prepare to deploy overseas, it is more important than ever that they are home for Christmas," Henry said. "For all they do for our state and our nation, giving them a special holiday season is the least we can do in return."
To ensure transportation for the estimated 2,600 troops, "Operation Holiday Homecoming" needs to raise approximately $600,000 to cover the use of 60 buses. Already, three Oklahoma-based Native American tribes and several corporations have come forward with major contributions. The Choctaw Nation is supplying 14 buses and the Chickasaws are supplying two buses. The Cherokee Nation has donated $35,000.
Members of the Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade are currently training at Fort Bliss, Texas, and will have 10 days of leave before deploying to Iraq in January, 2008. Nevertheless, U.S. Department of Defense regulations preclude the Army from paying for the soldiers' trip home while on leave. The expense of getting home therefore falls on the responsibility of each individual soldier, many of whom might not have funds to pay for the trip to Oklahoma.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Norman Lamb praised the initiative, saying, "It is very important that every soldier be given the opportunity to be home for Christmas," he said. "This is just the right thing to do for our soldiers who are providing a great service to our country."
Phillip Driskill, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, echoed his sentiments. "This will be the last opportunity these soldiers have to spend with their families before they deploy," he said. "It is so critical that we provide these soldiers and their families the chance to take advantage of the 10 days of leave to be together for Christmas."
Major General Harry M. "Bud" Wyatt III, adjutant general, expressed his appreciation to those entities that already have pledged resources and other help. "It is wonderful that we have organizations such as the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw Nations and BancFirst to provide their support," Wyatt said. "The ODVA and American Legion have stepped forward to assist with the efforts to get these soldiers home for Christmas. I cannot begin to express how much the Oklahoma National Guard appreciates all the efforts and hard work."
Donations to bring the members of the Oklahoma National Guard home for Christmas can be made at any BancFirst Branch to the Operation Holiday Homecoming account or, to The American Legion of Oklahoma, Operation Holiday Homecoming, P.O. Box 53037, Oklahoma City OK, 73152.
"It is a great occasion when we can get our men and women home with family for Christmas," said Michael Taylor, state commander of the American Legion of Oklahoma. "We will continue to support our troops and their families any way we can."

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