ST. GEORGE — A one-year deployment that draws soldiers from many of southern Utah's smaller communities gets under way Saturday with 474 soldiers leaving for Iraq.
The Second Battalion of the Utah National Guard's 222nd Field Artillery, known as the Triple Deuce, has units based in Cedar City, St. George, Beaver, Fillmore and Richfield that also draw from the even smaller surrounding communities. Battalion members will leave in four separate groups from airports in St. George and Cedar City beginning at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.
St. George native Lt. Col. Brad Fuller commands the 222nd and said that for each deploying soldier, there is at least one additional Guard member supporting the deployment at home. Add to that the number of employers throughout southern Utah who will be holding jobs open for deploying Guard members, and the families supporting the deployed men and women, and the impact of the deployment "involves many hundreds of other people."
"There are families, young families, that truly have the biggest burden to carry," Fuller said.
The departure of the Triple Deuce will bring the number of Utah National Guard soldiers currently deployed to about 1,000. Other units currently deployed include the 141st Military Intelligence Battalion and 151st Security Forces Squadron, both in Iraq; and the 118th Sapper Company, which is in Afghanistan.
Fuller has been part of the Triple Deuce since 1979, and the connection he has with the soldiers in his command is personal. "I know at least 80 percent of these kids," he said. "If I don't know them; I know their mom and dad, because I'm from here and grew up here."
"My job is to selflessly serve every one of these soldiers and make sure they're looked out for and understand their value, to their families and to the battalion and their communities," Fuller said.
The deploying soldiers will first receive specialized training at Camp Atterbury, Ind., and are expected to arrive in Iraq later this summer. Many of the Guard's deployed soldiers are working outside their assigned specialties, but better training at their home stations in Utah has cut down their time away.
"Early in the war, we were sending units for a year and a half. We got that cut down to about 12 months," Maj. Gen Brian L. Tarbet, Utah's adjutant general, said in January. "I think we've called upon our soldiers to do many different things than they have been theoretically, narrowly, trained to do. But in the last analysis, every soldier is an infantryman, and I think we've learned that lesson."
Security work is the focus of the artillery battalion's deployment. "There's a security mission that will involve training convoy security, protecting diplomats and contractors there building infrastructure," Fuller said. "We'll also be training the Iraqi army and are also there to help facilitate the transition of forces."
The 222nd deployed in 2003, initially bound for Iraq but redirected to Fort Lewis, Wash. Then the battalion deployed to Iraq in 2005.
That deployment experience is becoming typical in the Guard after 10 years at war, Tarbet said. "Almost every unit's gone twice. Many units have gone three times. More than a few individual soldiers have gone four."