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Thousands of Oregonians to head for war

SALEM — Nearly half the Oregon Army National Guard will leave for war in 2009, the most since World War II, with more than 3,000 departing by summer.

They will include men who fight wildfires, search and rescue teams that rescue stranded climbers and help communities overcome floods and freezes.

This month, all 12 of the Oregon Guard's medical evacuation Black Hawk helicopters and 100 soldiers, best known for their dramatic interventions, will leave.

Maj. Gen. Raymond F. Rees, the adjutant general who leads Oregon's military and office of emergency management, said the state has reorganized emergency operations. Oregon also will turn to Washington, Idaho, Nevada and California for help.

"This is going to be a very demanding year for the Oregon Army National Guard," Rees said.

Those mobilized will include Lt. Col. Christian Rees, his youngest son.

About half of Oregon's 6,500 Army Guard troops will depart this year. State Senate President Peter Courtney wonders who will help Oregon in tough times.

"I feel my state and my people become more vulnerable," Courtney said. "Just last week, we needed you to go to Gresham when Mother Nature came our way. You take care of us."

On Monday the Capitol will be packed with judges, senators and representatives for the opening of the Legislature.

But this week, parents, wives, husbands and wide-eyed children filed into the hall with digital cameras and wistful smiles. The Rees family passed the newest member of the family, Lt. Col. Christian Rees 15-month-old, William Montgomery Rees, up and down the front row.

The conventional wisdom in military circles is that today's soldiers are very likely the parents of those serving tomorrow, said Shelley MacDermid, director of the Military Family Institute at Purdue University.

Four of Maj. Gen. Rees' uncles served in World War II. The son of eastern Oregon wheat ranchers, Maj. Gen. Rees said he knew by first grade that he also wanted to serve in the military.

When he graduated in the class of 1962 at Helix High School outside Pendleton ("the senior class numbered seven and I wasn't even the valedictorian") he received an appointment to West Point and began a 40-year military career.

He led cavalry troops in Vietnam and served in the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., as acting chief in 1994 but returned to Oregon to earn a law degree at the University of Oregon and to be close to his children.

His son Christian graduated from Bend High School and completed the ROTC program at Cornell University.

The younger Rees also went to the University of Oregon, and earned a masters in architecture and works full time for the Guard as deputy director of installations, managing all of the Guards infrastructure around the state.

"The Guard is a family," Mary Len Rees said.