MERLIN — Soldiers, family members and community members crowded into a classroom Thursday at the Merlin Armory to hear about the days, weeks and months ahead for nearly 300 Oregon Army National Guard soldiers who are due to soon go to Afghanistan.
"We're going to have a good mission," Lt. Col. Noel Hoback told the assemblage.
Normally, Hoback works at the Oregon Youth Authority prison behind Walmart in Grants Pass. Like many others, though, he is a part-time soldier with the National Guard. He heads the 1st Battalion, 1-186th Regiment, with units in Ashland, Medford, Coos Bay, Roseburg, Merlin and St. Helens.
This summer, 83 of those soldiers assigned to Delta Company at the Merlin Armory are due to leave for training and then, in September, to the Middle East.
It's a time of nervousness and excitement. Soldiers will train to shoot and provide first aid for wounds. They'll practice their specialties. They will train near Astoria; near Boise, Idaho; and at Fort Hood Texas. They'll be leaving friends and family behind.
The soldiers be providing security at and around Bagram Airfield near Kabul, Afghanistan, where the temperature today was due to be 91 degrees.
The elevation there is about 6,500 feet, not quite as high as Mount Ashland's peak at 7,500 feet.
At Thursday's town hall meeting about the planned deployment, Hoback spelled out a timetable for training, including time for a few precious days of leave, and a July 18 mobilization ceremony in Ashland. The flight to Afghanistan leaves in mid-September from Fort Hood, where the soldiers train for 60 days.
Supporters and service providers in attendance included the American Red Cross, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Old Guard Riders, an aide to U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, and family support specialists.
Information about jobs, veterans and spiritual services was available. One minister even offered his services for weddings, commitments and other ceremonies.
Also there was Murphy resident Mike Baker, formerly of Delta Company, who was offering the services of his organization, Assisting Deployed Oregon Soldiers. The group offers financial help and other assistance.
"We're there to talk," Baker said.
"There's a lot of resources out there for soldiers," Hoback noted.
The soldiers have been training for this mission since returning from Iraq four years ago, Hoback said. Last year's annual summer training included infantry skills and platoon training.
This summer, soldiers will train first at Camp Rilea near Astoria, then at Gowen Field near Boise, Idaho, and lastly at Fort Hood. From Texas, they'll leave for Afghanistan.
During training, Hoback noted, the soldiers will shoot a total of about 300,000 rounds of ammunition.
"We shoot a lot when we're getting ready to deploy," he said.
Once in Afghanistan, the soldiers are expected to have access to a well-equipped gym, a post exchange store and limited communications with home, via computer and telephone. Coffee from a shop called "Green Bean" will be available, though Hoback noted it was "not quite Dutch Bros."
The soldiers won't have to live in tents and they'll be fed four times daily. They will have access to "educational resources," too. Families and friends were urged to write letters to soldiers.
Some soldiers don't get packages from home, so some donations in the form of goodies sent by Good Samaritans are welcome, and can be directed by an officer to those soldiers, Hoback said.
"The first sergeant knows who's not getting care packages," he said.
Many people ask how they can help soldiers in the field, Hoback said, but the military provides for most of the soldiers' needs.
Anyone with questions may contact Tracey Haeckler, a family assistance specials with the Oregon National Guard, at 541-618-5863.
Reach Daily Courier reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3813 or email@example.com