STILLWATER — When National Guard Sgt. Ty Burns was preparing to go to Afghanistan for his second deployment, his commander told him and his fellow soldiers that some likely would not be returning home.
“We knew we were going into a hot area and we knew we were gonna fight,” Burns told the Stillwater News-Press.
Burns returned from the war but Second Lt. Joe Cunningham did not. Burns wears a metal bracelet with Cunningham’s name and rank every day as a memorial to his fallen friend.
Burns is attending college and is a dispatcher and mounted patrol officer with the Payne County Sheriff’s Department. Burns said the department has provided him with an incredible amount of support, even meeting him at the airport in full uniform when he returned from his deployment.
Burns faced many harsh realities during his nine months last year in northern Afghanistan. Burns and his fellow soldiers lived in a remote forward operating base conducting patrols, missions, meeting with local leaders and whatever else needed to be done.
It often meant getting in firefights. Video shot from a camera on a fellow soldier’s chest shows Burns and his team in a rocky valley directing fire missions and shooting a flurry of rounds at attackers. A rocket screams overhead just after a soldier yells for everyone to keep their heads down.
“I thought bull riding was an adrenaline rush for eight seconds — there’s nothing to compare to what a firefight will do for you,” Burns said.
Burns joined the National Guard soon after graduating from Perkins-Tryon High School in 2006. He was deployed several months later to Iraq, where he worked at a detention facility. Burns said it was an amazing experience that helped him grow and develop. He said he also met many lifelong friends with whom he still keeps in touch.
While he also had a good experience in Afghanistan, it was much rougher. Burns spent those months living out of a backpack, sleeping on wooden floors, cots and the cold ground. On a week-long mission, Burns slept in a body bag to keep warm. After one particularly brutal firefight, he surveyed the row of enemy bodies from a Black Hawk helicopter.
“It wasn’t the best thing to go through,” Burns said.
Those were two moments he nearly quit the National Guard.
“I just knew I couldn’t do it anymore — and then I signed up again,” he said.
Burns said he enjoys being a part of something bigger than himself and helping others.
“There’s nothing better than having a sidearm strapped onto your leg in a drop holster, there’s nothing better than having a rifle across your chest, having double magazines stacked across,” Burns said.