Citizen soldiers from throughout southwestern Oregon returned home from mock desert warfare Thursday night, having completed their last training session before mobilizing for an Afghanistan deployment in summer 2014.
The 560 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry Regiment, headquartered in Ashland, spent the lion's share of June in the remote, high-desert country that is the isolated Orchard Combat Training Center near Boise, Idaho.
"We had an excellent training — the soldiers performed admirably," said Lt. Col. Noel Hoback of Grants Pass, the unit's commanding officer.
The 1-186th comprises citizen soldiers from 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. In the past decade, it has been deployed overseas three times.
The local guard members were among more than 3,000 from the 41st undergoing training. The brigade's other battalions are based in Bend, Springfield, Forest Grove and Portland.
Many of the soldiers spent long, hot hours carrying more than 50 pounds of gear — body armor, weapon, helmet and other high-tech gear — while conducting mock ambushes and operations that focused on clearing buildings as well as villages, according to a guard spokesman.
The training schedule is designed to iron out any potential problems before the unit deploys in August 2014, said Hoback, who was with the unit when it deployed to Afghanistan in 2006.
Although the guard announced this week that it had canceled plans to deploy some 60 soldiers in Pendleton-based B Company, 1-168 Aviation in January 2014, that has no bearing on whether the 1-186th would be told to stand down, Hoback said.
"Of course, there is always a potential for that from the time you are picked to go," Hoback said. "But there is no indication yet that is going to happen."
As a result, the unit will prepare with the expectation it will be deployed, he said. The local unit would receive additional training after being mobilized at Camp Shelby, Miss., in July 2014, then be deployed the following month, he said.
"We will be ready if they need us," he said, adding, "I always look forward to deployment, to do what we are trained to do."
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.
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 deployed to Iraq from July 2009 until April 2010. Two guard soldiers from the Portland area were killed in Iraq on Aug. 8, 2009.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at email@example.com.