Oregon Guard training for Afghanistan mission

June 16th ceremony in Bend; may be among last troops in country

BOISE, Idaho - As President Obama announced Tuesday a continued presence of nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after formal combat operations end late this year, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and the leader of the Oregon Army National Guard visited Guard soldiers Tuesday training in Idaho for their upcoming deployment.

The Guard's 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team is scheduled to mobilize three battalions totaling nearly 900 soldiers to Afghanistan this summer as part of the regular rotational cycle of forces to provide security missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Wyden and Maj. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Oregon's adjutant general visited with deploying Soldiers as they conducted pre-mobilization training at the Orchard Combat Training Center, an Idaho National Guard training facility south of Boise.

About 400 soldiers will deploy with 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, headquartered in Springfield, with companies also based in Corvallis, Gresham, and Hillsboro. A mobilization ceremony is scheduled for June 7 at the Salem Armory Auditorium, located at 2310 17th Street NE, in Salem, Ore. The ceremony begins at 2:00 p.m.

About 190 soldiers will deploy with 1st Squadron, 82nd Cavalry, headquartered in Bend, with companies also in Klamath Falls, Lebanon, and Redmond. A mobilization ceremony is scheduled for Monday, June 16 at Vince Genna Stadium, 401 SE Roosevelt Street, in Bend. The ceremony begins at 4:00 p.m.

About 275 soldiers will deploy with 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, headquartered in Ashland, with companies also based in Coos Bay, Grants Pass, Medford, Roseburg, and St. Helens. A mobilization ceremony is scheduled for July 18 at the Southern Oregon University McNeal Pavilion, located at 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., in Ashland. The ceremony begins at 10:00 a.m.

The total Oregon force, including engineers and other Air National Guard assets, totals about 1,100.

The units will complete deployment processing and training at Fort Bliss and Fort Hood, Texas prior to departure for Afghanistan.

The battalions will provide security and support for military facilities in Kabul and southwestern Afghanistan.

"Dollar for dollar, the National Guard is by far the best value for our national security," said Wyden.

The senator held town hall meetings to address soldiers' questions during his visit. He vowed to be an advocate for the National Guard and all veterans in Washington D.C.

The history of the 41st Brigade can be traced back to 1917, when the 41st Infantry Division was created for service in World War I primarily from National Guard units from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. The 41st Infantry Division was the longest deployed division during WWII, serving in the Pacific.

Elements of the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team have served in Saudia Arabia, The Sinai, Kuwait, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The brigade deployed a large contingent known as Task Force Phoenix to Afghanistan in 2006 and again deployed the entire brigade to Iraq in 2009.

"The Oregon National Guard today is the best-equipped, best-trained, best-led we've ever been due to experience gained through supporting overseas contingency operations over the last decade," said Maj. Stephen Bomar, director of public affairs for the Oregon Military Department.

"Mobilizations such as this help the Oregon National Guard maintain a ready and reliable operational force," Bomar added.

Bomar told KGW, "In Iraq, they had a very similar mission as to closing it down and keeping security. So they will revisit some of the same skill set that they had in the past."

He added that the Oregon soldiers will provide security for convoys, military bases and dignitaries.

Most deployments last about nine months in Afghanistan, so if the president's plan holds, the Oregon soldiers will likely remain there until the summer of 2015.

That could also mean that the Oregon soldiers will be some of the last to leave Afghanistan, to end what has been a very long commitment.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley said he's calling for a congressional vote on the president's plan.

"The American people deserve a voice in issues of war and peace. Automatic renewal is fine for Netflix and gym memberships, but it is not the right approach when it comes to war," Merkley said, in a prepared statement sent to the media Tuesday.

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