By Hillary Borrud

The Bulletin

Friends and family filled Vince Genna Stadium on Monday afternoon to honor the Bend-based Oregon Army National Guard 1-82 Cavalry Squadron before the soldiers deploy to Afghanistan in August.

Two hundred soldiers, roughly half the squadron, will leave today for training in Fort Bliss, Texas, and then spend approximately 10 months at an air base in western Afghanistan, near the Iranian border. The squadron includes soldiers from across the state, including Redmond, Klamath Falls and Lebanon, as well as from outside of Oregon. The 1-82’s mission in Afghanistan includes providing security and defending the Shindand Air Base, a 9.26-square-mile former Soviet base where the American-led coalition is training the Afghan Air Force.

Col. William Edwards, commander the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which includes the 1-82, told the soldiers they face a difficult mission in Afghanistan, “during what I expect to be a period of rapid change.”

Command Sgt. Maj. William Wyllie, also of the 41st Infantry Brigade, said after the ceremony Monday that the Oregon National Guard will soon begin major changes, after more than a decade of frequent deployments during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’ve been in a time of persistent conflict since 9/11,” Wyllie said.

Soldiers at the mobilization ceremony said they were prepared for the deployment. Pfc. Chris Schiller, 22, a medic from Bend, said this will be his first deployment, but he said he is ready.

“We’ve got a great unit, great commanders,” Schiller said after the mobilization ceremony. Schiller is an emergency room technician at St. Charles Redmond and is also studying at Central Oregon Community College. Schiller and other medics trained soldiers in the unit to provide emergency medical care, and Spec. Ryan Simmons, 22, of Redmond, said they have been busy practicing basic combat movements. Simmons said this will also be his first deployment.

For Sgt. 1st Class Arnie Pooler, 32, of Coos Bay, the mobilization ceremony was the perfect opportunity to propose to his longtime girlfriend, Jessika Swisher, 31. Pooler popped the question right after the ceremony ended, with his family gathered down on the baseball field.

“My whole platoon knew because we’d planned it,” Pooler said, after Swisher accepted his proposal.

The squadron will take along a bit of Oregon to Afghanistan.

During the ceremony, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s chief of staff Mike Bonetto presented a state flag to squadron commander Lt. Col. Dan Miner, so the soldiers can fly the flag during their tour in Afghanistan. Miner presented the 1-82 squadron’s colors to Bonetto, who promised to display them at the capitol until the soldiers return home. Bonetto promised the soldiers that the state will support their families during the deployment.

“Know that we in Oregon will rally to support them until your safe return,” he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. In the original version, the St Charles location where Pfc. Chris Schiller works was reported incorrectly. The Bulletin regrets the error.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829,