The heavy smell of diesel fumes filled the air as 69 petroleum tankers left Salt Lake City Monday morning on the first leg of a trip to the Persian Gulf.
Family members and friends of about 170 Army Reserve soldiers from the 419th Transportation Company lined the sidewalks outside the Moore Hall armory near 4500 South and 1300 East as the big tanker trucks pulled away in convoy. Drivers of the trucks, who became full-time soldiers over the weekend, waved American flags and honked their horns as the group snaked toward I-15 and headed north toward Fort Lewis, Wash.Members of the petroleum transportation company were notified Thursday they were being activated in the most recent wave of Reserve and National Guard call-ups in support of Operation Desert Shield. The short notice left the once part-time soldiers with little time to get their personal affairs in order before leaving for their eventual part in Operation Desert Shield.
Debbie Holland, whose husband, Robin, is one of the drivers in the transportation company, said the family had a mini-Thanksgiving dinner with family Sunday night. Most of the weekend was spent doing "lots and lots of running around getting ready," she said.
Thanksgiving and Christmas will be "kind of sad, kind of quiet," she expects.
Capt. Lisa Porter, the company commander, said company staff is still trying to contact a few stragglers, who are over-the-road drivers in their civilian careers and have been out of touch since the company was activated Thursday.
Altogether, 138 members of the company left in the pre-dawn convoy Monday. An advance party of company officers was scheduled to fly to Fort Lewis later Monday and a rear party is scheduled to leave Wednesday afternoon, Porter said.
Army Reserve spokesman Maj. Bill Auer said the group is expected to arrive at Fort Lewis sometime Wednesday and will likely spend several weeks there before departing for the Middle East. Auer said the Army isn't likely to announce when the group will actually leave the country until 72 hours before the departure.
Monday's deployment is the largest in Utah to date of the Reserve and National Guard components called to active duty by President Bush. On Wednesday, more than 400 National Guard members from the 144th Evacuation Hospital will be activated and are expected to leave the state Saturday.
Bush has authority to call Reserve and National Guard troops for 90 to 180 days. Porter said she expects the transportation company she commands will be activated the full 180 days.