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Transportation home a problem for Oregon troops granted leave.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

About 700 Oregon soldiers will get a break of two to 2 1/2 weeks in March before spending 12 months in Iraq, but it's unclear how easy it will be for them to get home for the leave.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden has asked the National Guard to step in to transport the troops in the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, of the Oregon National Guard once their training is done at Fort Polk, La. The battalion headquarters is in Cottage Grove.

But the request would cost several hundred thousand dollars and is unlikely to happen, said Maj. Arnold Strong of the Joint Force Headquarters in Oregon.

"The fact of the matter is that most aircraft are committed to the war and will likely not be available for this mission," he added. "It's not realistic."

No one from the National Guard Bureau could be reached Tuesday.

Mobilized in October, the battalion has trained with the 39th Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Polk, La., since November.

After their leave, the soldiers return to service March 18 or 19, Strong said. They then go to Iraq.

The 2nd Battalion originally was scheduled to deploy during the first week of March. The date has been delayed due to logistical challenges abroad, Strong said.

Some soldiers at the fort can visit families in the immediate area. Their Oregon counterparts, however, face a cross-country trip to do the same.

"Without military transport, the soldiers will be forced to buy extremely expensive last-minute airline tickets, or, more likely, stay at Fort Polk for the duration of their leave," Wyden wrote in a letter to the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va. "It is the least we can do to assist them in saying goodbye to their families before they are deployed to fight in Iraq."

Between 150 and 250 of the battalion soldiers live in Lane County.
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Title Annotation:General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 25, 2004
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