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60 Guard soldiers, 8 choppers going to Iraq
A UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter goes into a hangar on Monday at the Helena Air National Guard to be prepared for deployment to Iraq. There will be eight UH-60s from Helena heading overseas on Saturday.

HELENA - Sixty soldiers with the 189th General Aviation Support Battalion and eight Black Hawk helicopters assigned to the Montana National Guard will leave for Iraq this weekend, continuing the state's second round of deployments to the war in Iraq.

Last weekend, five specially trained soldiers with the state's 190th Chemical Reconnaissance Detachment also deployed, moving one step closer to their tour in the Middle East.

The latest round of activations, which has seen around 200 Montana soldiers leave since the first of the year, marks the second time the state Guard has been called upon in large numbers to augment or replace units in Iraq.

As many as 1,400 Montana soldiers returned from the war in 2005, beginning a reset phase that lasted until December, when members of the 143rd Military Police Company left again for Iraq though Fort Dix, N.J. That deployment was followed two weeks ago by 120 soldiers from state's 639th Quartermaster Company.

Those mobilizations will continue on Saturday when 60 soldiers from the 189th leave for Iraq. The soldiers have formed a special task force (Task Force Raven), and will join Pennsylvania's 28th Combat Aviation Battalion in Iraq.

"As part of the 28th Combat Aviation Battalion, our mission will be quite diverse," said Capt. John Gehring, task force commander. "We'll be conducting air movement operations in support of the global war on terrorism."

Deployments within the National Guard have been shortened from 18 months to 12 months, forcing units like Task Force Raven to conduct the bulk of their training at home.

The soldiers learned early last year they might be called up. The unit began training at Fort Harrison, as well as Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash., and at a range in Utah.

Maj. Tim Crowe, public relations officer for the Montana National Guard, said a small contingent of soldiers with the 190th Chemical Reconnaissance Detachment also left Helena last weekend for Camp Atterbury, Ind., before heading to Iraq.

Led by Master Sgt. Stephen Tichenor, the team includes three soldiers from Helena and two from Bozeman. They'll join the 19th Special Forces Group in Iraq when their training is complete.

Capt. Jason Magera, commander of the 190th, said the deployment won't be the first for his men, as most of them have deployed with other units earlier in the war.

However, he said, the tour in Iraq represents the 190th's first mobilization as part of a mission with special operational forces.

"Each member of this team is an excellent and experienced soldier," Magera said. "There is no doubt all of them will succeed many times over, no matter how challenging their tasks might be."