TIGARD &

A 3,500-member Oregon Army National Guard unit has been put on alert for likely duty in the Middle East. If the unit goes to Iraq or Afghanistan, it would be the biggest deployment of the Oregon Guard since World War II. "This will be the big one," Brig. Gen. Mike Caldwell said.

The soldiers from the Tigard-based 41st Brigade Combat Team would not be sent until 2009, when the U.S. will have a new president and the situation in the Middle East could look very different than it does today.

The Ashland Armory unit is part of the same unit in Tigard, 1st Sgt. Couch, of Ashland, explained. The Tigard-based brigade actually covered armorys in several cities, including Ashland and Medford. News of the deployment was just coming into the unit at the Ashland Armory this morning, but Couch said the soldiers are experienced from previous active duty tours.

"We were there when the War in Iraq started," Couch, who refused to give his first name, said, explaining the rotation of this "cycle of mobilizations dating back prior to 9-11."

"Even though we haven't had official notice, we knew it was coming. We were up in the chute. Reactions: expected. That's our reaction, expected. You didn't need a crystal ball to see it happen."

Military experts say it takes about a year to equip, train and certify a unit for combat. The early notification allows the brigade to bring more people on full-time status to handle logistics and set up supply and training schedules.

News of the alert was first reported Wednesday by The Oregonian on its affiliated Web site, OregonLive.com.

More than 4,000 Oregon Guard soldiers have served in the wars of the Middle East, and some have done more than one tour, said Maj. Mike Braibish, the Oregon Guard spokesman. Col. Dan Hokanson, deputy commander of the 41st Brigade, said the alert could cause some Guard members anxiety, given that many have already had a tour. But Guard forces are being stretched thin nationwide, he said.

"What's happened is the military has basically run the table," he said. "When you have such a large commitment of forces overseas, you just begin recycling through. Now it's our turn again."

The Oregon Guard is recruiting about 1,400 soldiers annually, and many of them will probably be part of the 2009 deployment, Caldwell said.

"Everybody signing up now knows full-well that their chances of deployment are very high," he said.

The Oregon Guard includes about 6,400 Army soldiers and 2,100 Air Force members. There are about 500 Oregon Guard troops in Iraq today.