Close to 400 citizen-soldiers assigned to an Oregon National Guard unit headquartered in Springfield are making final preparations before heading to Afghanistan for about a year.
The 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry will hold a mobilization ceremony today in Salem before heading a week later to Texas for final training. The unit also has companies in Corvallis, Gresham and Hillsboro.
In mid-August, following their training, the citizen-soldiers will fly from Texas to Afghanistan. They most likely would remain there until May 2015.
Two other units within the Oregon National Guard’s 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team also will be sent to Afghanistan. The total number of deploying citizen-soldiers is about 900.
The coming deployment has been in the works for about two years. The Oregon National Guard initially had anticipated the citizen-soldiers would be home by the end of 2014.
But a proposed security agreement that President Obama announced last week means they most likely will remain in country through spring 2015. The proposal, subject to approval by the Afghan government, would end the U.S. combat mission in December after more than 13 years of war.
It would keep a residual force of 9,800 U.S. troops to train Afghan forces and support counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda. All U.S. troops except a small continguent guarding the U.S. Embassy in Kabul would return home by the end of 2016, Obama said.
“It will be a nice surprise if we go home early, but we’ll be prepared for the full run,” said Lt. Col. Scot Caughran, the battalion’s commander, whose unit returned on Wednesday from more than two weeks of annual training in Idaho.
The infantry battalion will be tasked with five missions in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital and largest city, and its surrounding area, Caughran said.
The citizen-soldiers will guard bases and VIPs, and serve as so-called “guardian angels,” to protect Coalition forces against rogue Afghan security personnel. The U.S. military started the “guardian angel” program in 2012 over concerns about the increase in so-called “green on blue attacks,” in which rogue Afghan personnel turn their weapons on coalition forces.
Other citizen-soldiers will form police adviser teams to work with police chiefs in the 18 police districts in the province.
Finally, three groups of 20 citizen-soldiers will serve as quick reaction forces to respond if trouble arises. Caughran said they would be the only U.S. combat power in Kabul as the drawdown gains momentum.
Caughran said he visited Kabul two months ago as part of his unit’s preparations and was impressed with the performance of Afghan security forces.
“There’s a security threat that’s over there, but it’s mitigated by the Afghan police,” he said.
The 2-162 deployed to Iraq in 2004-05 and 2009-10. Some of its citizen-soldiers deployed to Afghanistan in 2006-07, but this would the largest number of Guardsmen with the unit to deploy there.
Lt. Alan Mishler and Staff Sgt. Adrian Wilson, both assigned to the battalion’s A Company headquartered in Springfield, are busy preparing both their citizen-soldiers and their families for deployment.
Mishler, a 33-year old grocery manager at the Albertsons at 30th Avenue and Hilyard Street, said he’s focused on the 27 citizen-soldiers in his platoon and his wife and 2-year-old son back home.
Mishler, readying for his first deployment, said Albertsons has reassured him that he can return to his job when he comes back, as required under federal law, and that his wife, although nervous, is prepared to hold down the fort in his absence. “I don’t have to worry about a thing when I’m away,” he said.
Wilson, 35, said he volunteered for his fourth deployment. He and his wife got married last year, but they were dating when he deployed the last time.
“She’s obviously concerned,” said Wilson, who had deployed with the unit to Kuwait in 2000 and both times to Iraq. “She knows what she hears in the news and what she reads in the paper about the situation in Afghanistan. At the same time, she knows I love what I do.”
Aside from serving in the National Guard, Wilson has worked as a contract employee for the military.
Both men said the unit is prepared for what awaits in Afghanistan.
“A lot of guys seem like they’re excited about it,” Wilson said. “It’s kind of amped them up to go out to be a full-time soldier, to be out on mission and carry out what our battalion asks of us.”