Commander says Guard unit will be ready to deploy

Battalion in Ashland already is planning for Afghanistan mission

The year 2014 may seem to be on the distant horizon to most folks, but Noel Hoback is already making plans.

The lieutenant colonel is the commander of the Oregon Army National Guard's 1st Battalion of the 186th Infantry, headquartered in Ashland.

Members of the unit's citizen-soldiers are tentatively expected to be deployed to Afghanistan in 2014, although it's unknown at this point how many could be deployed.

"If other members of the Oregon Guard are going, we will definitely be part of it," said Hoback, 43, who took over command of the battalion in July.

The 1/186th is part of the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, headquartered at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas, which received notice from the Army that the brigade will tentatively deploy some 1,800 troops to Afghanistan in 2014 for a tour that could last 400 days. The brigade's other battalions are based in Bend, Springfield, Forest Grove and Portland.

All told, the 1/186th has 811 soldiers with units in Medford, Grants Pass, Roseburg, Coos Bay and St. Helens.

If the deployment goes forward as scheduled, it would be the Oregon Guard's second largest overseas deployment since World War II. The largest since 1945 was the 2,800 Oregon Guard members deployed to Iraq in 2009.

Some 600 soldiers from the 1/186th were deployed to Iraq from July 2009 until April 2010. Two Guard soldiers from the Portland area were killed in Iraq on Aug. 8, 2009.

Hoback, a veteran of the deployment to Iraq and another to the Sinai in 2002, said the battalion will be ready when the time comes.

"We are further out at this point than we were for Iraq," he said, citing the experience throughout the ranks. "But we are looking at a very dynamic environment in Afghanistan. That area is changing, and there is a lot of time in which things can change further."

In Iraq, the 1/186th provided security at military bases and for supply convoys. Local soldiers engaged insurgent forces 43 times and escorted 95 million gallons of fuel and 78,000 tons of supplies.

In Afghanistan, security is again expected to be the main mission, said Hoback, a program director at the Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility in Grants Pass.

However, because President Barack Obama already has announced plans to withdraw the remaining 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, there is a chance the deployment could be changed or even canceled, Guard officials said.

If they go, the 41st from Oregon could be among the last Americans on the ground in that country, they add.

"Preparing for this deployment is good for the Guard," Hoback said. "It makes us a ready force, whether for domestic missions or for overseas deployments."

Before they are deployed, the battalion will likely receive additional training at military bases stateside, albeit details of when and where won't be forthcoming for months, he said.

Added Hoback, "We'll be ready. We have one of the best units in the nation."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.


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