Many military families in Southwest Oregon will be holding loved ones a little closer this holiday season, knowing they won't be with them for much of 2009.

Many military families in Southwest Oregon will be holding loved ones a little closer this holiday season, knowing they won't be with them for much of 2009.

More than 600 members of the Oregon Army National Guard's 1st Battalion of the 186th Infantry headquartered in Ashland will be deployed to Iraq in June or July, said battalion commander Lt. Col. Greg Day of Grants Pass.

The 1/186 is part of the Oregon Guard's Tigard-based 41st Infantry Combat Brigade Team, which is sending 2,800 troops from Oregon and more than 650 others from other states.

The 1/186th has units in Medford, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, Roseburg and Coos Bay.

The citizen-soldiers are expected to be in Iraq for at least nine months, returning home in the spring of 2010. Roughly 60 percent of those deploying already have done a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the Guard.

The deployment is a mandatory mobilization, said Day, an attorney and Grants Pass resident who served in Afghanistan in 2007 and was deployed to the Sinai Peninsula as part of a United Nations peacekeeping force in 2002-2003.

"Quite a few of us have already been over there," he said of serving in either Iraq of Afghanistan. "It's difficult on work and family life."

"But I'm part of the team," he added. "I feel good about the mission we will be doing. We're providing security force for both convoys and fixed sites."

The 1/186th members are expected to begin training at Camp Roberts in California in April, then be sent to Fort Stewart, Ga. for additional training in May, he said.

He expects it will be the last deployment to the area for five years because of regulations which require brigade combat teams to have that downtime between deployments.

"A big concern after this many years of experience in deployment is family wellness," he said. "But both the National Guard and the supporting organizations are bending over backwards to make sure families are being taken care of while we're gone. There are a lot of resources available for that."

There is also ample support for those in military uniform, he observed.

"You can't go anywhere in uniform without people telling you they appreciate what we are doing," he said. "That makes you feel good about what you are doing."

Meanwhile, 17 Oregon Army Guard members led by Lt. Col. Keith Ensley of Medford returned home this week after a deployment to Afghanistan that began last March.

The soldiers, which included Sgts. 1st Class Mike Walker and Larry Williams, both of Central Point, helped train members of the Afghan national army in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.