CAMP BUEHRING, KUWAIT " As many as half or more of the members of Oklahoma's National Guard " the 45th Infantry Brigade, or Thunderbirds " have deployed overseas.
Detainee operations, "Green Zone" security and convoy protection are among the tasks that the Thunderbirds will undertake during their estimated year in Iraq. Most of these things will be difficult in the country, even with the supposed lessening of internal strife there.
Much of that quietus is due to a cease-fire brokered by the United States and coalition forces with Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Shiite militias implicated in much of the sustained violence.
Brig. Gen. Myles Deering, Ada, 55, commander of the Thunderbirds, remains guarded despite the cease-fire.
"I approach the present cease-fire with al-Sadr with cautious optimism," Deering said. "I believe we've made some gains over the past 12 months and that is indicated through the inactivity "¦ but that can change in a minute. I hope and pray we continue building on what we've begun, and that we can help bring peace to that part of the world."
Maj. Andrew Ballenger, 36, of Sulphur, an intelligence officer for the 45th, is quietly optimistic that the peaceful trend in Iraq will hold " but said not to count on it.
"There are definitely reasons to be optimistic," he said. "But, at the same time, you should guard against being overly optimistic. Everything is conditions-based, as the Pentagon says. Troop levels, friendly activity, et cetera. But conditions are certainly better than they once were." "Ben Fenwick
Read more about Ben Fenwick's Thunderbird travels.