About 175 men and women of the Army Reserve's 419th Transportation Company were busy mobilizing Friday in Moore Hall, Holladay.
They leave Saturday for what could turn into a six-month tour of duty in the Middle East.Nobody expected the activation to happen at such short notice, said Major Bill Auer, public affairs officer for the 96th Army Reserve, based at Fort Douglas. "I'm sure that it is a big surprise to a lot of them.
"It will be a big surprise to their families, it will be a surprise to their employers, but it is one of those tough things they have to do."
The 419th, which hauls and distributes fuel, was placed on alert Thursday and was told that it would be formally activated two days later. In a press conference at Fort Douglas Thursday, Auer said the group will convoy 50 to 60 vehicles to Fort Lewis, Wash.
"Once they get to Fort Lewis, they will find out what their ultimate assignment is, and they will go there," he said.
The 419th could be on its way to the Middle East or may be stationed at some other place where its specialty is needed. Operation Desert Shield has placed a tremendous burden on the military's worldwide mission, and some reserve units are being called upon to help the gap in places other than the Mideast desert.
The call-up came Thursday as part of the activation of many units nationally. Altogether, the United States ordered about 200,000 more military personnel to join the 230,000 in the Mideast.
The 889th Support and Service Company, based in Great Falls, Mont., and also in the 96th Reserves, was placed on alert at the same time, Auer said.
Most of the soldiers of the 419th live within 50 miles of Salt Lake City, he said. The unit's base is Moore Hall, 4550 S. 1300 East, Holladay.
"The actual activation date is Saturday," he said. "They are being alerted now."
First the unit's commander and his staff were notified. They began calling others in the 419th, he said. "Those that can't be reached by telephone, you go out and knock on their door."
Reservists are being checked to make sure their vaccinations are up to date. They are performing last-minute maintenance on vehicles, gathering their personal gear and filling out forms.
Meanwhile, the 96th Reserve is issuing identification cards to their family members and briefing them about their new status. Now they have all the privileges of dependents of soldiers on active duty in the Army, including commissary rights.
Asked if the 419th is ready to go, Auer said members are "consistently and constantly being trained, year round." In recent years the company went to Korea and built roads in Central America.
"These people are trained the same as the regular Army. They are expected to work as hard as the regular Army," he said.
Auer said he does not think the new mobilization brings the country closer to war.
"We are putting a force in there to make sure Saddam Hussein knows we are serious about our interests," he said. The 419th could be on active duty for at least six months.
Responding to a question about how the men and women feel about the call-up, Auer said, "I personally am a reservist. I am in uniform because I feel that is how I can serve my country."
Nobody serving in the armed forces wants a war, he continued. But they are glad to back officials from President Bush to Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the effort.
"We hope Saddam Hussein realizes the magnitude of what is going on," Auer said. Hopefully, this will lead to a quick solution, he added.
The unit was organized as a quartermaster truck company in 1944, during World War II. In 1963 it was converted and redesignated as the 419th Transportation Company. In 1968 it was assigned to the 6th Army and stationed in Salt Lake City.