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Oregon City soldiers headed overseas

Two soldiers from Oregon City prepare to be deployed during a Salem ceremony with Gov. Ted Kulongoski
by: submitted photo, Governor Ted Kulongoski, left, speaks with Oregon National Guard Major Eric Wunderlich and his family during last week’s ceremony.

An Oregon-based National Guard Brigade Combat Team, including two soldiers from Oregon City, is en route to a training mission in Afghanistan this week. The soldiers were sent off by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Speaker of the House Jeff Merkley, and a representative from Congresswoman Darlene Hooley's office at a ceremony in Salem on Thursday.

The unit was set to leave Saturday for Ft. Riley in Kansas, where they will undergo training.

'In our time at Riley we're going to learn a lot of cultural stuff, a lot of weapons they may have that we don't have,' said Captain Phil Chik, of Oregon City.

Around March, they will go on to Afghanistan to train Afghani police or soldiers.

'There's been conflict there for a long time, so they know how to fight on an individual level, so we're trying to help them fight as a team,' Chik said.

The unit consists of 16 more experienced members of the 41st Infantry Brigade, because experience is crucial to what they're trying to teach, Chik said.

'Lots of this is just about experience - there's no privates on this deployment.'

Chik himself said he'd served in Kuwait and Iraq in 2003 as an executive officer for an infantry company.

'We spent about five months in Kuwait guarding the bases down there, then we went to Iraq and did route control,' he said. '[We] had about seven miles of road that we just patrolled 24/7.'

Chik works full time for the National Guard and has lived in Oregon City for about six years. He said the hardest thing about being away is missing his family and friends.

The soldiers' families know what that longing's like, as well, but believe in what their spouses and parents are doing. Gretchen Wunderlich, wife of Major Eric Wunderlich, who's going on the same deployment as the team's logistics officer, said she's been grateful because he's never had to serve overseas before.

'[He's been] in the guard for going on 22 years, so we felt very fortunate, but we knew at some point he would have to serve his country overseas.'

She said the hardest part is thinking of the more significant days, when her husband's absence is especially hard.

'Thinking of all the things that he will miss throughout the year - birthdays and anniversaries - I have a second-grader who calls them 'bumps' - days that are harder than other days,' she said.

But she also said her son tries to be understanding.

'We've told him that daddy's going to help people and because he's really really good at helping people here in Oregon, they want him to go help people farther away.'

'He is our hero. It's easy for the kids to have heroes that they don't know,' but they see their father as a true hero, she said.

'We look at it as those people need him right now more than we do.'