Up to 500 members of the Oklahoma National Guard’s 45th Infantry unit will be deployed to Ukraine beginning early next year to train soldiers there, The Frontier has learned.
Lt. Col Lindy White, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma National Guard, said plans call for about 250 members of the 45th Infantry Combat Brigade to spend up to 60 days training for the mission. The soldiers will then be deployed to Ukraine. The troops will provide training support for Ukrainian armed forces as part of the U.S. security cooperation agreement, White said.
The troops will provide training support for Ukrainian armed forces as part of the U.S. security cooperation agreement, White said.
The unit will spend about six months in the region and then return home. They will be replaced by a group of about 250 soldiers from the 45th Infantry, who are also scheduled to spend about six months taking part in the training mission, White said.
Soldiers in several different battalions that make up the 45th will take part in the deployment, she said.
The 45th — whose soldiers are known as the Thunderbirds — has its headquarters in Norman. It has units stationed in four locations throughout the state: the 279th Infantry in Sand Springs; the 179th in Stillwater; the 180th Cavalry in McAlester; and the 160th Field Artillery in Chandler.
The 45th is one of two National Guard infantry brigade combat teams that have mobilized three times in the last 12 years, according to the guard’s website.
About 3,500 soldiers from the 45th combat team deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, the largest deployment of the Oklahoma National Guard since the Korean war. Soldiers from the unit also deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.
The troops will be deployed in a region of Ukraine that has been in conflict for more than two years, with Russian-backed separatists fighting government forces.
Conflict in the region flared in 2014, when Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, rejected a proposal that would have brought the country closer to the European Union. The former Soviet republic, which is about the size of Texas, gained its independence in 1991.
After Russia annexed Crimea, the conflict between Russian-backed separatists and government forces grew wider. Between April 2014 and July 2016, the UN Human Rights Office reported 9,553 soldiers and civilians were killed in the region.
Monday, a prominent commander of the Russian-backed separatists was killed by a bomb, just days ahead of a multinational summit to discuss ways to quell the violence, the New York Times reported. Leaders from France, Germany, Russia and the Ukraine are expected to attend the meeting Wednesday.