Officers from the Bend-based Oregon Army National Guard 1-82 Cavalry Squadron are in western Afghanistan this week, visiting the air force base where the unit is scheduled to begin a nine-month deployment in August.
“Essentially, it’s a leader’s (reconnaissance), for leadership within the squadron to get eyes on what we’re going to be facing,” said Maj. Christopher Kerr, “and kind of see how they’re operating over there, so we’re able to come back and set up our training for all the troops deploying to be more focused, and give that element of realism on what they’re going to be facing during deployment.”
The visit, called a pre-deployment site survey, will last two to three weeks. Two hundred soldiers, roughly half of the 1-82 Cavalry Squadron, will deploy to Afghanistan to provide airfield security and defend the Shindand Air Base, where the American-led coalition is training the Afghan Air Force. The former Soviet base covers 9.26 square miles in western Afghanistan, near the Iranian border.
The NATO air training command in Shindand includes troops from El Salvador, Hungary and Italy, according to a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force. The soldiers are working to build the Afghan Air Force’s flight training program at the base and advising Afghan personnel on everything from security and intelligence, to operating the base’s fire department and mess hall, Italian Ten. Col. Marco Mele wrote in an email.
By the summer, Oregon military officials expect more than 1,100 Air and Army National Guard soldiers will deploy to Afghanistan. “They’ll be spread out throughout the country,” said Oregon Military Department spokesman Stephen Bomar. There are approximately 8,700 soldiers in the Oregon Air and Army National Guard, and Bomar said the upcoming deployment is much smaller than the Oregon Guard’s 2009 deployment to Iraq. That year, Oregon sent more than 3,000 soldiers to Iraq.
The Oregon Guard is preparing for the deployment amid uncertainty about how long troops will stay. NATO troops are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of the year, unless the country’s leaders sign an agreement with the U.S. to keep international forces in the country. President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the Status of Forces Agreement and although Afghans voted for a new president on April 5, the country has not yet reported the election results.
“That could shape whether (Oregon Guard troops) come home earlier than the normal 400-day rotation,” Bomar said.
On April 4, the 1-82 Cavalry Squadron trained at an Oregon Guard facility east of Redmond. The exercises included identifying roadside bombs so soldiers can call in a specialized team to dispose of them. “Then they would generally call in explosive ordnance teams,” Bomar said. “But if you’re able to identify it, you’re able to keep moving down the road and keep things secure.”
Guard members also practiced operating a security checkpoint and deploying a quick response force, which is trained to treat injured soldiers and defend them from an ongoing attack. “These individuals are trained to come in, secure the area and ensure there is no additional damage or casualties in the area where an event may occur,” Bomar said.
Kerr, with the 1-82 Cavalry Squadron, said the exercises are “Army requirements for mobilization.”
For some soldiers in the squadron, this is their first deployment. Others have served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan during the last decade. For example, Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Dan Miner was part of a mission from 2006 to 2007 to train and mentor Afghan National Army soldiers, then deployed to Iraq from 2009 to 2010 to provide base security. His experience is common across the Oregon Guard.
“There are some individuals who have done as many as five deployments in the last 10 years,” Bomar said.
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