They studied the Afghan language in Seaside and fired 45,000 rounds of .223-caliber cartridges at the Grants Pass sportsmen's park.

They studied the Afghan language in Seaside and fired 45,000 rounds of .223-caliber cartridges at the Grants Pass sportsmen's park.

They also practiced with advanced carbine weapons in White City and trained under close air support at the Oregon Air National Guard Base in Portland.

But such training was only the beginning for the handpicked, 18-member Oregon Army National Guard team commanded by Lt. Col. Keith Ensley of Medford.

The volunteer team will begin a 400-day mobilization when additional training starts on Jan. 5 at Fort Riley, Kan. Members will head to Afghanistan in mid-March.

Once in country, the group, known as an embedded transition team, will spend a year training and mentoring Afghanistan army and police officers.

"It is a great opportunity to serve the people of Afghanistan," Ensley said. "As their army and police forces become more professional, our necessity to remain there will diminish. The entire goal of the team is to empower the legitimate security forces in Afghanistan."

Ensley described the team as a "very talented and select group" of outstanding soldiers with the right mix of experience needed to train their foreign counterparts. Among the members are a highway engineer, a Nike marketing executive, a commercial fisherman, a college teacher, police officers and a high school vice principal.

In addition to Ensley, two local Guard soldiers joining the mission are Sgts. 1st Class Lawrence Williams and Michael Walker, both of Central Point. The team also has members from as far south as Crescent City, Calif., and as far north as Vancouver, Wash.

Until earlier this month, Ensley was the commander of the Guard's 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry Brigade headquartered in Ashland. He left the post to lead the mission to Afghanistan.

Ensley, 43, and his wife, Page, have a blended family of six children ages 10 to 17. He has a master's degree in engineering management from the University of Missouri and a bachelor's in physics from James Madison University in Virginia.

"I'm excited about this mission," Ensley said, although adding he will miss his family.

While the Afghan army is well-versed in fighting guerrillas, it needs guidance in overall military operations, advanced planning and synchronizing with other units such as air support, Ensley said.

"As far as fighting and individual tactics, we won't be getting involved in that," he said, adding team members largely will be advisers working in training centers.

"We will be working with their company commanders and their senior non-commissioned officers," he said. "There would be a company of about 100 Afghans with two Americans hanging off in the wings."

After arriving in Kabul, the Oregon team will be assigned to Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix and likely be broken down into three to five units before being sent to regional commands. Each unit will be provided with local interpreters to assist members in communicating with their Afghan counterparts, Ensley said.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a former Marine, will preside at the team's activation ceremony set for Jan. 3 in Salem.

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