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National Guard Black Hawks Leave Oregon For Iraq

Fleet Leaving For 400-Day Deployment

Called into duty for a 400-day deployment, all 12 of the Oregon National Guard Black Hawk medevac helicopters and 135 pilots, crew chiefs, maintenance and support staff are heading to Oklahoma for training and then on to Iraq.

The Oregonian reports that last Thursday's deployment ceremony was attended by Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, US Representative Kurt Schrader and John Walsh, adjutant general of Montana. Walsh's 23-year-old son Michael is one of the Black Hawk pilots.

This isn't the first deployment of the Oregon National Guard's helos and staff to the Mideast, but it is the first time the entire fleet has been called into duty - leaving only four pilots and one borrowed helicopter to cover the state's emergency Guard calls.

"I do not know who will fill the void," said mountain rescuer Michael Leming. "Even in perfect conditions it can take hours and hours to get people off the mountain. The reality is people are going to get seriously hurt, and some are not going to make it."

The Black Hawks were originally acquired by the Oregon National Guard's 1042nd Air Ambulance Company in 1996 through a determined bit of legislative maneuvering by Oregon's Republican Senator Mark Hatfield, who managed to earmark 15 brand new UH-60Ls coming off the Sikorsky assembly line for the Oregon National Guard.

The 1042nd was renamed in 2006 as Team Charlie - C Company, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation. Team Charlie is among over 3,000 Oregon National Guard soldiers slated for deployment this year.

FMI: www.mil.state.or.us/

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