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Union native Kevin Sheehy, pictured with his wife, Susie, is a colonel in the Oregon Army National Guard and is preparing for his third overseas deployment. (Courtesy photo)
by Pat Caldwell/For The Observer
UNION — In terms of service to his country, one could say Union’s Kevin Sheehy is pretty generous.
Sheehy, a colonel in the Oregon Army National Guard and a Union native, is also very familiar with deployments to combat zones. Sheehy deployed to Iraq as part of Eastern Oregon’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment in 2004 and again in 2010 with Idaho’s 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team.
In between those two deployments he also led the 3rd Battalion for two years.
Sheehy and his family spent the past decade essentially waiting for the next combat deployment overseas. While his service to the nation may not be uncommon in a politically conservative area like Eastern Oregon, his commitment highlights a critical, and often overlooked, fact: less than one percent of the total American population served in the global war on terror. In World War II, by contrast, more than 11 percent of the total population served in some capacity with the armed forces.
Sheehy’s journey from mid-level management in the Oregon Guard to deputy commander of Oregon’s biggest citizen-soldier combat outfit — the 41st Brigade Infantry Combat Team — also underscores the way the global war on terror shaped and altered the modern Army National Guard.
The fate of the numerous Oregon National Guard units scattered across the state in places like La Grande, Burns or Hood River during the war on terror is Exhibit A in a revealing modern American war phenomenon.
Once deemed to be only a backup force, the National Guard endured numerous deployments to overseas combat zones since 2003. While every state in the nation contributed citizen-soldiers to the global conflict, Oregon Guard units experienced a remarkable deployment pace during a decade of war.
More than 10,000 Oregon Guardsmen were deployed overseas between September 2001 and 2011. Some of those citizen-soldiers deployed more than once.
After a stint in the active-duty Army, Sheehy spent the majority of his career in Eastern Oregon’s 3rd Battalion. From platoon leader all the way up to commander of the battalion, Sheehy logged more than 10 years in a citizen-soldier unit that is defined as much by its geographic location as its demographic structure. Rural in nature, Eastern Oregon furnishes a particular kind of part-time soldier, Sheehy said.
“Their families tend to be more resilient and the soldiers themselves are more self-reliant,” Sheehy said.
Now, though, Sheehy is second-in-command of a bigger unit in a different part of the state, preparing once again, for another deployment. The 41st Infantry Combat Team is slated for a possible 2014 deployment to Afghanistan. The deployment, if it occurs, will be one of the last American military ventures in that war-torn nation as the presidential-mandated drawdown proceeds. The drawdown is expected to be completed by the end of December 2014.
In a sense, Sheehy personifies the modern citizen-soldier officer. He was captain in charge of the Hermiston National Guard unit when terrorists struck on September 11, 2001. Now, he stands as the second in command of the biggest Guard combat unit in Oregon.
The past 10 years, he said, were packed with challenges and triumphs as he navigated through two combat tours while he climbed the promotion ladder. Yet Sheehy views the sacrifice he made during the last decade through a pragmatic lens.
“(Another deployment) is inconvenient. But that is the career of the military,” he said.
While he will not be a rookie regarding a deployment, Sheehy said any time a Guard unit ventures overseas there is a certain amount of risk one must ponder carefully.
“I don’t take deployments lightly. Particularly when going into a new theater. I don’t know a lot about Afghanistan,” he said.
Finding surface comparisons between Iraq and Afghanistan may seem easy, but Sheehy said the two combat zones are starkly dissimilar.
“Afghanistan is a different fight. The Afghan insurgency is totally a different animal than the Iraqi insurgency,” he said.
With the United States military presence gone from Iraq and diminishing in Afghanistan, the global war on terror appears to now be a conflict regulated to the history books and the back pages of the national newspapers.
But for Sheehy and the soldiers he will lead in the 41st Brigade Combat Team the war isn’t over.
At least not yet.