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Oregon Guard units due home after year in danger.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

Vickie Stugelmeyer waits. And she hopes.

Hopes that her son, Staff Sgt. Odin Toomey, gets through these last couple of months of duty with the Oregon National Guard in the Middle East and makes it home safely.

"I am concerned," Stugelmeyer said. "They're in danger over there whether they're in Kuwait, Iraq or Saudi Arabia."

Her son has spent time with the Guard's 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry - based in Forest Grove, with companies in Salem, McMinnville, Gresham, St. Helens and Hillsboro - in all three countries since deploying nearly a year ago.

As about 700 soldiers from the Guard's Cottage Grove-based, 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry continue training in Texas and Louisiana for their yearlong mission to Iraq beginning in March, soldiers deployed last year with the 1st Battalion await their homecoming.

Toomey, 27, and about 650 other Oregon National Guard soldiers who were mobilized on Feb. 12, 2003, are expected home in April, Guard spokeswoman Kay Fristad said.

"I want people to remember that these guys are there and that they're coming home," said Stugelmeyer, sitting in her north Eugene home Saturday, with her boyfriend, Paul Knowlton.

Five of Toomey's fellow Guard buddies from the Eugene-Springfield area - Aaron Garris, Kelly Graham, Aaron St. Clair, Arland Roche, and Cletis Mitchel - are also expected home in April, Stugelmeyer said. "And we're going to have a big party for them," she added.

Toomey is part of the Salem-based Alpha Company, currently stationed as a security force at a military housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The company was sent there in August after 35 people, including nine Americans, were killed in May when suicide bombers attacked a residential housing compound.

They hit the compound again in November, killing 17 more.

"He heard that noise, actually," Stugelmeyer said of her son.

Although Toomey talks to his mother by phone a couple of times a week, he doesn't tell her everything. In fact, she didn't know he was in Iraq until he e-mailed photographs, forgetting that one had a spray-painted sign off a highway that said: "Iraq border ahead: Beware of children in the roadway."

Only one Oregon National Guard member, Spc. Nathan Nakis, 19, of Corvallis has been killed since the beginning of the Iraq war, and three others were seriously injured in an ambush last summer, Fristad said.

Stugelmeyer did not want her son to go last year, but then decided: "He needs to do this. This is what he was trained to do." Last month, she received a letter from her son's commander in Saudi Arabia, U.S. Army Col. Thomas Stanton, commending him for the job he's done. "On Christmas and New Year's Day, while many Americans spent time with their families in the comfort of their homes, Staff Sgt. Toomey was protecting and performing a significant mission in Saudi Arabia," part of the letter reads.

Stugelmeyer isn't sure what the mission was, and her son told her he hadn't done anything heroic or out of the ordinary. But he did say other soldiers in his company hadn't heard about such letters from their parents. Fristad said it was unusual for commanders to single out soldiers for such praise.

Stugelmeyer, however, said she does know one thing about the letter: "It makes me cry."

CAPTION(S):

Vicki Stugelmeyer's son, Sgt. Odin Toomey, pictured on the computer monitor, was commended by his commander.
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Title Annotation:Government; Families remain concerned as Middle East duty is to end in April for 650 soldiers
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 8, 2004
Words:565
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