In a few short weeks, Guardsmen from Southern Oregon will gear up for their annual summer training. For some, it will be the start to a nine-month tour overseas.
The Oregon National Guard’s 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team — the state’s largest Guard combat unit — will mobilize three battalions as part of a regular rotation to Afghanistan in September. The unit has already logged three deployments overseas in the last decade, but this will be its first to Afghanistan.
The deployment will include about 84 members of the Roseburg-based Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry. The 1-186th also consists of citizen-soldier units from St. Helens, Coos Bay, Grants Pass, Medford and Ashland.
The Oregon National Guard held a town hall meeting Thursday night at the Roseburg Armory to talk with Charlie Company Guardsmen and their families, as well as community members, about what to expect during deployment.
Lt. Col. Noel Hoback told the audience of about 25 that the battalions — stationed at Bagram Air Field, one of the largest bases in Afghanistan — will provide security and support for military facilities in Kabul and southwestern Afghanistan.
“This mission is going to be different than the last mission,” he said. “In Afghanistan, things are a little more austere.”
Guardsmen from Southern Oregon were last deployed in 2010 to Iraq.
Hoback said the culture and landscape vastly differ from what Guardsmen experienced in Iraq and that communication back home will likely be limited.
Still, soldiers will have access to video calls, phones and social media when they aren’t in the field, he said. They will also have fixed sleeping quarters, four meals a day, gym facilities, access to educational resources and top-notch equipment.
“We have the best equipment the military provides. The National Guard is well-sourced, especially the Oregon National Guard,” Hoback said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Brad Huppunen told family members in the audience that they should expect their soldiers to become a little nervous as deployment nears. “That’s just human nature,” he said.
“Shoot, move, communicate are the three things that are going to keep your soldiers alive over there,” Huppunen said.
But for Private 1st Class Ryan Stinson, the nerves are less about combat and more about being away from home for nearly a year.
“I’m not nervous about the actual mission itself but being away from my family and my fiancee,” he said after the meeting.
Stinson, 22, of Roseburg just returned home from basic training Friday. He said he signed up for the unit so he could go on this mission.
His fiancee, Susanna May, 27, of Roseburg attended the meeting with Stinson and said she knows he will be in capable hands.
“He’s going over there with the best guys, so I know he’ll be taken care of,” she said.
Stinson is one of two Guardsmen being deployed straight out of basic training, said Capt. Vasilios “Bill” Garyfallou, commander of Roseburg’s Charlie Company.
“It is up to (the senior soldiers) to provide them with guidance,” he said.
Garyfallou recently returned from a two-week stay in Afghanistan, where he communicated with the unit the battalions will replace.
President Barack Obama’s senior administration announced earlier this week a two-year plan to reduce U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 32,000 to 9,800 after the war formally ends later this year. The plan also calls for most of those forces to withdraw by the end of 2016.
The Guardsmen will report to their assigned units June 21 and head to Camp Rilea in Warrenton for annual training until July 3. They will then return home for the Fourth of July weekend before finishing their annual training at the Orchard Combat Training Center south of Boise, Idaho.
Hoback said that Guardsmen will focus on shooting, combat first aid, driving, land navigation and situational training. On average, more than 350,000 rounds are shot during annual training, he said.
The Guardsmen will then travel to Medford and stay there to attend a mobilization ceremony July 18 in Ashland, before heading to Fort Hood in Texas.
The soldiers at Fort Hood will undergo 60 days of intensive training with no outside distractions, and if successful, will get a four-day pass to venture off the base or visit with family in the area, Hoback said.
Huppunen said he encourages families to take advantage of that time.
“They are going to want a little taste of home. They’re going to want to talk to their loved ones,” he said.
Sgt. 1st Class Frank Rademacher agreed that spending as much time with family before deployment is crucial.
Rademacher, 41, of Roseburg is the platoon sergeant for Charlie Company’s 2nd Platoon and will oversee 26 Guardsmen during deployment, he said after the meeting.
His two daughters, Faith, 10, and Hope, 8, took the week off from school to spend time with him before he leaves.
“It hasn’t set in with them really,” he said. “They usually spend the summer with me.
“The hardest part for me is leaving those two,” Rademacher said. “I’ve been doing this long enough to adjust to anything else that comes along the way.”
• You can reach reporter Jessica Prokop by phone at 541-957-4209 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.