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3500 Oregon Guard Soldiers Called Up For Overseas Duty

News that 3500 troops from the Oregon National Guard may be going to Iraq or Afghanistan has revived concerns that there won’t be enough soldiers left here to help in an emergency.

As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, the deployment in 2009 will be Oregon’s largest since World War II and nearly doubles the record set since then.

The deployment is for the 41st Brigade Combat Team. It's headquartered in Tigard, but has units spread across the state.

3500 troops are likely to be involved. The biggest deployment up to now had been 1800 soldiers. They were sent to Afghanistan in 2005.

Guard spokesman, Major Mike Brabish, says that while the call-up is for a lot of people, there are benefits to this kind of large deployment.

Mike Brabish: “The way things have happened in the past here is that we’ve had units tasked out to company level and battalion level. What this deployment is going to do is it’s going to mobilize the entire brigade so we’re going to have Oregonians taking care of Oregonians on this deployment.”

Brabish says there’s another silver lining. Because the guard has been given more than a year to prepare, soldiers will be able to do their six-month training in Oregon. And that's unprecedented in this war.

Mike Brabish: “What would happen is we would send our soldiers to a mobilization platform to get pre-deployment training. What is happening now is we’re going to do that certification in the state. So our soldiers will have more time with their families, more time to prepare their families, more time to train and get ready. So that’s going to shorten the amount of time that they spend away from home.”

Brabish says Oregonians are likely to see more activity around the guard’s training ranges — in Warrenton and near Bend.

Having soldiers in state also promises to allay some worries about the availability of troops if there's a big forest fire, an earthquake or oher natural disaster.

Governor Ted Kulongoski’s spokeswoman, Patty Wentz, says he is concerned about everything from the soldier’s healthcare when they return, to what will happen if there is an emergency while they’re gone.

Patty Wentz: “When you have a deployment this large, it does hinder the state’s ability to handle natural disasters. We lose both troops and equipment and it makes us unable to fully meet our compacts with other states when they need to call on us for help in emergencies.”

Guard spokesman, Mike Brabish, says there are still going to be plenty of solders here, but he understands the concern.

Mike Brabish: “We’re going to have a presence of about in the neighborhood of 5,000 soldiers and airmen who are still here.  What we’re going to have to do is take a long-range look on the impact and our ability to respond to state emergencies. And make sure that we have contingencies plans in place that will allow us to tap into resources from other states if we need to.”

Brabish says emotions in the guard are mixed. Some soldiers are ready to report for duty; others have indicated they plan to leave the guard before the deployment.

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