The 605 citizen soldiers bound for Iraq from the Oregon Army National Guard's 1st Battalion of the 186th Infantry will stay a little cooler this summer, thanks to the Medford chapter of the American Sewing Guild.

The 605 citizen soldiers bound for Iraq from the Oregon Army National Guard's 1st Battalion of the 186th Infantry will stay a little cooler this summer, thanks to the Medford chapter of the American Sewing Guild.

Under the friendly command of Connie Buchanan of Central Point, a half dozen members of the guild put in more than 500 volunteer hours to turn 300 yards of desert digital camouflage cloth into some 1,500 neck coolers and more than 850 water-cooled helmet pads for the soldiers. They presented the coolers and pads to 1st Lt. Michael Heinsch at the battalion headquarters in Ashland Thursday afternoon.

"We want to present them to all the soldiers leaving from Southern Oregon to help them with the heat and to remind them of home," Buchanan told Heinsch.

The coolers and the pads contain polymer beads the size of grains of rice that swell when they absorb water. The soldiers need only soak the flat strips of cloth in water to turn them into cold, round sausages or cool helmet pads.

"Those are awesome," said Heinsch, 33, who returned from a tour in Afghanistan early last year where temperatures once flamed to more than 130 degrees. But the heat in Iraq will be worse, he said.

"I cannot tell you how much it means to us to get things from home, to just know that people care," he added.

The 1/186th is part of the Oregon Guard's Tigard-based 41st Infantry Combat Brigade Team, which is sending 2,800 troops from Oregon and more than 650 troops from other states. In addition to its Ashland headquarters, the 1/186th has units in Medford, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, Roseburg and Coos Bay.

The 1/186th members are expected to begin training at Camp Roberts in California in April, then be sent to Fort Stewart, Ga., for additional training in May.

They likely will be deployed to Iraq in June and serve at least nine months, returning home in spring 2010. Roughly 60 percent of those deploying already have done a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the Guard.

Buchanan came up with the idea to make the neck coolers after talking to her soldier son stationed in Tikrit, Iraq. After Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Buchanan, 37, a 1990 graduate of Eagle Point High School, mentioned the blazing heat, she suggested he needed one of her neck coolers. She often wears the colorful, water-soaked tubes during the summer heat to lesson the ill effects of multiple sclerosis.

A retired U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs mental health nurse practitioner, Buchanan teamed up with friends who like to sew to make about 1,800 neck coolers for her son's unit in Iraq last year. When they learned local members of the Guard would be heading to Iraq, they started sewing again.

Buchanan credits the volunteer hours spent by her friends as well as help from the Fast Turn Junction quilting store in Jacksonville for their success. Joining her in presenting their cooling products on Thursday were fellow guild members Lorraine Beene of White City, Alma Gates of Jacksonville and Sandi Benfield and Phyllis Sherburne, both of Medford.

It was a labor of love, Beene said.

"Everybody has a talent and I like sewing," said Beene, who has two nephews in the military, including one in the Middle East. "I like to share my talent with my community and they (Guard) are part of our community.

"It's so hot over there — this will make them more comfortable," she said.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.