Thanksgiving this year will be more than Butterball turkeys and football games for 425 members of the Utah National Guard.
Members of the 144th Evacuation Hospital - many of them doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals - have been placed on active duty effective Wednesday as part of the Desert Shield military buildup in the Middle East."The president has authorized the activation of National Guard and reserve units, including the 144th Evacuation Hospital, for 180 days," announced Maj. Bob Nelson, public affairs officer for the Utah National Guard.
In addition, the 120th Quartermaster Detachment and a cell of the 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion already on active duty have had their tours extended from 90 days to 180 days "in recognition of the ongoing operational mission of National Guard and reserve units in Desert Shield," he said.
The 144th Evacuation Hospital, based in Salt Lake City, had been placed on alert last Thursday. Gov. Norm Bangerter was notified of the activation order shortly after it was received Saturday morning.
"The personnel of this unit may leave Utah for their mobilization station at Fort Carson, Colo., as early as Nov. 24 (Saturday)," Nelson said.
The unit consists of 24 doctors and 49 nurses, with the balance of the unit performing highly trained support functions. It is a large unit with members from all over the state, Nelson said.
The unit is capable of providing care for up to 400 patients and is capable of providing dental, surgical, X-ray, pharmaceutical and laboratory services. In 1989, the unit trained on state-of-the-art mobile medical equipment. Once in the field, they will use similar equipment or they may take their own equipment with them, Nelson said.
"It is a unit with significant capabilities and dedicated professionals," he said.
The unit has begun preparations for activation, including family-support actions, immunizations, physicals and employer-support func-tions.
Nelson added that Utah National Guard members have re-employment rights with their civilian employers when they return from active duty, and information explaining those rights is being sent to the employers of every affected Guard member.
"In addition, the families of these individuals are being provided immediate benefits and support through the National Guard Family Assistance Office," Nelson said.
Information about the mission and destination of the 144th Evacuation Hospital is not available, Nelson said.
Concern has been expressed that the latest activation would aggravate a current nursing shortage along the Wasatch Front. Many of the nurses in the Utah National Guard are nurse educators.
"We can't get the students because of lack of faculty - and this (the gulf crisis) will make the problem even worse," said Laura Poe, an executive with the Utah Nurses Association.
Nelson agreed. "Without question there will be an impact on health-care institutions on the Wasatch Front," he said.
Currently, 14 members of the 120th Quartermaster Detachment based in American Fork are on active duty in Saudi Arabia, as are 18 members of the 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion based out of Draper.