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  • 1/186th prepares for Afghanistan

    1/186th prepares for nine-month deployment to Afghanistan
  • For Wendy Bargé, the big difference between her husband's deployment to Iraq in 2009 and his deployment to Afghanistan in a few months is the face time the couple won't get this time around.
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  • For Wendy Bargé, the big difference between her husband's deployment to Iraq in 2009 and his deployment to Afghanistan in a few months is the face time the couple won't get this time around.
    Lief Bargé, 45, of Medford, is joining about 275 other soldiers from the Oregon Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry Regiment of the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
    There is limited Internet access where the 1/186th is headed, so the Bargés expect they will be able to speak only once a month over satellite phone during the deployment, Wendy Bargé said. When her husband was serving in Iraq, they were able to video chat on their computers regularly, she said.
    "We are proud, but we definitely don't look forward to 400 days without him," the wife and mother of five said. "We're just going to go home and have our last little hurrah before he leaves."
    Headquartered in Ashland, the 1/186th comprises citizen soldiers from units in Ashland, Medford, Grants Pass, Roseburg, Coos Bay and St. Helens. The soldiers will leave today for pre-deployment training at Fort Hood, Texas, before heading to Afghanistan in September — when the nine-month deployment begins.
    About 1,500 people in Ashland attended a mobilization ceremony for the soldiers held Friday inside McNeal Pavilion at Southern Oregon University.
    It's a strange feeling having to leave family and loved ones behind, but the 1/186th soldiers — Guardians of the Western Gates — are optimistic about their mission, said 1st Lt. Michael Martin, 31, who is part of the deployment.
    "You just try to tell (family) as much as you can, keep them informed, keep them in the loop. The more they know the better they feel about it," Martin said. "Everybody that's going wants to go, we all volunteered, we all want to go."
    Martin, who lives in Reno, Nev., but commutes to Ashland for duty, said all soldiers take a little piece of home with them during a deployment. For him, he said, it's books, "about half my library."
    Guardsman Spc. Joshua Leighton, 23, of Merlin, who served in Afghanistan in 2011, isn't headed back to the country for this deployment, but his older brother, who already served in Iraq in 2009 and 2010, is.
    "It's just weird that he's going to be leaving. ... It sucks," Leighton said.
    Friday's ceremony featured speeches from U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, Adjutant Gen. Dan Hokanson and 1/186th commander Lt. Col. Noel Hoback.
    "The citizen soldiers standing before you are not only soldiers but they are also loggers, mill workers, farmers, fishermen, teachers, law enforcement officers, scientists, engineers, construction workers, small-business owners and they represent many other professions. They are your neighbors, daughters, sons, brothers, husbands, fathers and friends. They represent selfless service," Hoback said. "The 1/186th infantry will be ready for whatever we are called upon to do ... we will remain flexible and ready regardless of the mission."
    Once in Afghanistan, the 1/186th will conduct a security force mission in support of a task force in and around Bagram Air Base in Kabul.
    In June, President Obama said about 9,800 U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan for about a year after the end of 2014, when combat operations end, which means the 1/186th soldiers could be some of the last in the country.
    Bend-based 1st Squadron of the 82nd Cavalry and the Springfield-based 2nd Battalion of the 162nd Infantry Regiment are also being deployed to Afghanistan before the end of 2014.
    The three Oregon units are part of the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which is expected to deploy about 950 soldiers to Afghanistan this year.
    The deployment will be the Oregon National 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.
    Wendy Bargé, 41, said she plans to fly to Texas in September to see her husband one last time before he leaves the country. The 1/186th soldiers will have a four-day pass away from Fort Hood before heading to Kabul, she said.
    "We're definitely proud. We just want everyone to come home safe and sane," she said. "It's hard without him."
    Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.
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