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Plaque to Army soldier at National Guard camp causes controversy; family is furious

Friends and family of a fallen U.S. Army reservist are furious about the potential relocation of a plaque honoring the deceased soldier at an Oregon National Guard camp in Clackamas County.

A building at Camp Withycombe was dedicated to Spc. Brandon Tobler in August, after Tobler’s reserve unit moved to the camp. The plaque had been dedicated at the unit’s previous location and traveled with the soldiers to Camp Withycombe, which is owned by the National Guard.

Tobler was the first Oregonian to die in the Iraq war.

“Having the plaque relocated because of bureaucratic red tape pisses us all off,” said Scott Tom, Tobler’s uncle.

The controversy, first reported on KATU on Wednesday, is blowing up four months after the Army Reserve, tenants of the camp, dedicated the motor pool building and hung the plaque.

Stephen Bomar, spokesman for the National Guard, said officials in the National Guard and the Army Reserve have been discussing alternate plans for the plaque for about a month because Tobler's unit made the dedication without consulting the National Guard.

The Guard learned about the dedication after the fact, Bomar said, and had a lot of questions: Is this dedication permanent, or will the unit take the plaque with them again when they move? Is this plaque presented in the best way?

Officers are considering a few options, said Bomar, like framing the plaque or moving it inside the building. When they have narrowed it down to a few clear ideas, he said, they will present the options to the family.

Keeping the plaque in place is still an option at this point, he said. Tobler's uncle, Scott Tom, said that’s what the family wants.

“If an option is to leave the plaque where it is, then why are we discussing this?” he said. “Don’t they have bigger fish to fry?”

Bomar said the National Guard is concerned that the plaque may not be properly reinforced, or that it needs to be taken inside to protect it from the elements.

But Kim Kennedy said that’s bogus. The former Army soldier, who knew Tobler, said the National Guard is just “flexing its muscles” against the Army Reserve tenants.

There’s a long history of tension between the military divisions, she said, and she believes the National Guard doesn’t want its building dedicated to an Army soldier.

She said Bomar doesn’t have the guts to “accept that an Army soldier is on his building.”

It’s an all-weather plaque, she said, so there isn’t a need to protect it from the rain, wind or cold. She suspects National Guard officials want to “hide” the plaque inside, where it won’t be as prominent.

Bomar said the goal is to make the dedication permanent, but only if the family and the reserve unit are OK with leaving it there when the unit eventually moves.

Officials have been discussing how to properly display the plaque and looking into whether it was hung properly, Bomar said.

“They don't want it falling and getting destroyed,” he said, “and definitely don’t want it falling and then getting set inside somewhere for six months waiting for the wall repair.”

The purpose of the discussions, Bomar said, is to ensure the National Guard and the Army Reserve are on the same page and the plaque is properly displayed. He said family members were contacted Tuesday for their input.

Tom, the uncle of the fallen soldier, had this input:

“They can talk until they're blue in the face,” he said, “but we'll be unhappy if they move it.”

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