The 423 members of the Utah Army National Guard's 144th Evacuation Hospital are being put on alert for activation to Operation Desert Shield, the Guard announced Thursday morning.

Brig. Gen. Tom Brewer, assistant adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, said members of the hospital unit are being notified of the alert for possible activation.Many of the unit's members hold civilian jobs as doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals along the Wasatch Front.

Maj. Bob Nelson said the notice came as a surprise to state National Guard officials. And while the hospital is being put on alert, there is no indication yet how much time would pass before the unit is activated - or whether it will be activated at all.

"The governor's office was briefed shortly after the early morning notification of the Guard on Thursday," Brewer said, adding that "the alert was unanticipated. We have received no indication that Utah Guard units would be involved in the current call-up cycle."

The unit will take no formal call-up action until it receives notification of activation, Nelson said. Information about the actual mission the hospital would perform or the duration of its call-up would not be available until after an official call-up.

The alert came while Maj. Gen. John L. Matthews, the state adjutant general, is in Atlanta attending a conference for senior Air National Guard officers.

The alert follows the Desert Shield activation of the 120th Quartermaster Detachment from American Fork and a call of the 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion from Draper that was announced Aug. 24. The 32 Guard members involved in that activation are still in Saudi Arabia.

The 144th Evacuation Hospital is capable of providing care for up to 400 patients with services ranging from dental, surgical, pharmacy and intensive care, to X-ray and laboratory services. In l989, the unit received and trained on state-of-the-art equipment called Deployable Medical Systems.

Nelson said members of the National Guard know that their units may be federally activated in situations like this one.