KYIV, Ukraine - In a historic moment for Ukraine and the U.S., Oklahoma National Guard Soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team became the first ever U.S. Army Soldiers to march alongside Ukrainian troops during a parade in Kyiv, Ukraine on Aug. 24.

The parade was in celebration of Ukraine's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Nine other NATO allied and partner countries, along with the 29 U.S. Soldiers, marched in the parade. In addition, the U.S. Air Forces Europe Band conducted an evening performance to observe the holiday. Senior U.S. leaders including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commanding general, U.S. Army Europe, also attended the festivities.

On top of being among the first Americans to march in the Ukrainian Independence Day parade, six 45th IBCT Soldiers were honored by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine for their heroic actions earlier this year-Sgt. Nelson Deese, Sgt. Matthew Odom and Spcs. Vincent Humerickhouse, Kellar Jackson, Aaron Moore and Kevin Polk were awarded the Ukrainian merit badge for evacuating residents from a burning building in L'viv, Ukraine in July.

While the parade in Kyiv, which was broadcast globally, was a highly visible, symbolic display of U.S. support for Ukraine, further west, fellow Thunderbirds showed their solidarity more locally by participating in Independence Day festivities closer to their home away from home-in the community of Yavoriv, Ukraine.

Lt. Col. Bruce Lambeth, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 279th Infantry Regiment, 45th IBCT, delivered a speech during the small town's official ceremony.

"On the day set aside to celebrate Ukraine's independence and to reflect on the virtues that make Ukraine great," Lambeth said, "I urge each of you to think about and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as the men and women currently serving in uniform safeguarding the freedoms you enjoy today,

Ukrainian citizens-men and women like yourselves, who didn't necessarily want to fight, but chose to defend their country because of their desire to be a proud and free democratic nation."
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The 45th IBCT is currently deployed to Western Ukraine in support of the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, an international coalition dedicated to building the training capacity and professionalism of the Ukrainian army.