America's heroes: Oklahoma's 45th Infantry returns home, lawmakers push for soldiers' job protection

TULSA - More than two thousand soldiers with the 45th Infantry were sent to Afghanistan and Iraq for nine months.

They returned home Oklahoma heroes.

It began with a formal send off ceremony, and eventually there were surprise homecomings.

One returnee was Matt Cyrus, whose mother, Suzanne, is a teacher at Jenks West Elementary. She had no idea her son was granted leave at Christmas.

Matt's plan to surprise his mother surprised him a little as well.

"I thought it was going to be funny," said Matt Cyrus. "I almost got emotional there for a second."

But in between the goodbye and the happy homecoming, there was hard work, serious fighting, and in some cases death. Fourteen soldiers did not make it home.

Matt Cyrus says even with all the training, being thrown into the heat of war took getting used to.

"It's hard to fathom that you know the people there are actually trying to kill you," he said. "That's their job, to kill you, the American."

Suzanne Cyrus says she feared for her son's life everyday.

"You just hope that nobody comes driving down your driveway," she said.

Matt's father says knowing all his son and fellow comrades have been through, he has a new appreciation for military members.

"If I see someone in uniform, you know, I make the effort to make sure that I say thanks," said Mark Cyrus. "Before that, I probably wouldn't have."

But while Matt Cyrus was away, a battle was being waged on Oklahoma soil as well.

When former Osage and Pawnee County District Attorney Rex Duncan was activated as an Army National Guardsman, he was forced to vacate his job.

Okla. Gov. Mary Fallin reinstated Duncan upon his return from duty, but Duncan says his situation highlights a fundamental problem.

"In effect, my buddies in uniform serving in public office are looking to me to try and fix it for them as well," Duncan said.

State lawmakers tried to spearhead an effort to make it law that elected officials would not have to give up their jobs when called to serve in the military, but the legislature did not pass it.

Duncan says the fight is not over.

In spite of controversy and loss of life, one thing is for certain: members of the 45th did their job well. A job that included nation building, training Afghan National soldiers and conducting combat operations.

And this summer they returned home to a much deserved hero's welcome.

The National Guard is also helping the soldiers adjust back to civilian life.

They've had 30- and 60-day checks, where they offer seminars for parents, spouses and soldiers.
 
 

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