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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Guard to help in Gulf

The Washington National Guard announced on Friday the mobilization of 600 soldiers in support of Gulf Coast relief operations.

The battalion-sized unit, called Task Force Raven, is made up of soldiers from the 81st Brigade Combat Team, the 96th Troop Command and airmen from the Washington Air National Guard, according to Guard spokesman Maj. Philip Osterli.

All of the guardsmen volunteered for the disaster duty, and many of them returned just last spring from Iraq.

“We put out a call for volunteers and received an overwhelming response,” Osterli said, adding that the Louisiana National Guard only now is returning from duty in Iraq.

The task force, which will deploy to Louisiana in seven to 10 days, will be providing security to areas affected by last month’s Hurricane Katrina unless Hurricane Rita alters those plans.

“We’re not sure what kind of impact Rita is going to have on Texas,” Osterli said.

The Washington state deployment, part of a coordinated response effort by the National Guard Bureau and the Department of Defense, will augment civil authorities stretched thin by the extent of Katrina’s destruction, the Guard spokesman said.

Washington has already deployed 120 soldiers to Louisiana from the 66th Aviation Brigade, which has been conducting airspace planning and coordination, aerial search and rescue.

In addition, the Washington Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing based at Fairchild Air Force Base has flown several KC-135 missions to the Gulf Coast, ferrying Oregon and Washington guardsmen to Louisiana.

The deployment of Task Force Raven is expected to last from three to four weeks.

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