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Oregon Guard 1/186th gears up to deploy to Afghanistan

National Guard soldiers in southwestern Oregon will be deployed to the winding-down war in Afghanistan later this year, and the unit's commander today is hosting a town hall meeting for community members to learn more about their mission.

The meeting on behalf of the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry Regiment will begin at 6:30 tonight at the Medford Armory, 1701 S. Pacific Highway, and include a presentation from Lt. Col. Noel Hoback, with an opportunity for the audience to ask questions.

Headquartered in Ashland, the 1/186th comprises citizen-soldiers from units in Ashland, Medford, Grants Pass, Roseburg, Coos Bay and St. Helens. It is part of the Oregon Guard's 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the state's largest National Guard combat unit.

Soldiers, military families, employers and community members are encouraged to attend today's town hall meeting, said Master Sgt. Josh Godfrey, 41, of Medford.

"The battalion's commander is reaching out to the community. We've had a lot of community support. ... He will share what he can about the mission and thank them, frankly," Godfrey said. "We have a really nice mix of a lot of experience, guys who are comfortable in the leadership role, and we have a mix of the next generation of soldiers. There are quite a number of guys that will be experiencing their first deployment."

About 300 soldiers from the 1/186th will mobilize in July and spend a couple of months at Fort Hood, Texas, before heading to Afghanistan in the fall for the one-year deployment, Godfrey said.

There, the unit will conduct a security force mission in support of a task force in and around Bagram Air Base in Kabul, Godfrey said.

Last week, President Obama announced that 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.

The Bend-based 1st Squadron of the 82nd Cavalry and the Springfield-based 2nd Battalion of the 162nd Infantry Regiment also are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan this year, Godfrey said, but they will do so separately from the 1/186th.

The units are part of the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which is expected to deploy about 950 soldiers to Afghanistan this year.

If the deployment moves 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 a part of that deployment, serving in Iraq from July 2009 until April 2010.

"We have had a lot of prep time, so there is some comfort in understanding that we know we're doing the right things to get ready and that we know we have been preparing properly," Godfrey said. "Overall we feel really positive ... and we're ready to serve once again."

A similar town hall meeting will be held at the Grants Pass Armory, 666 Brookside Blvd., at 6:30 p.m. on June 12.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.