Several of the 425 members of the Utah National Guard's 144th Evacuation Hospital expressed fear of the unknown Monday night as they prepared to join combat troops in Saudi Arabia next month.
But they also expressed solidarity with American and Saudi troops - currently part of Operation Desert Shield - and said they want to help if a war starts between Iraq and the United States in the near future."I just want to get going, but it's hard to keep going home and keep saying goodbye every day and have to go through the crying all over again," said Parker, a unit nurse, 36, who leaves in five days for Fort Carson, Colo., along with 24 doctors, 49 nurses and other health-care professionals.
For security reasons, interviews with unit members were granted only under the condition that last names were not used.
"I just want to get going. I don't want any more delays," Parker said.
Another unit member who was married six months ago said her biggest fear is leaving her husband behind. The frail, blond 22-year-old woman named Leslie said she cried when she found out she had been activated.
"I cried. I really did. It was hard to take," she said.
Leslie is a medical specialist whose husband, Jeril, 26, says the whole preparation period has been extremely hard to endure. "It will be hard being apart and not knowing what will happen. It's scary. She's a fragile thing.
"I was fine when she told me, but when she had to fill out her will, that's when it hit me," Jeril said, holding back tears.
Members of the 144th Evacuation Hospital will be activated Wednesday as part of the Desert Shield military buildup in the Middle East.
Utah National Guard Maj. Gen. John L. Matthews agreed with unit members that the separations will be difficult and "an added burden to deal with."
Matthews said the activation came under an order that authorizes President Bush to call a unit up for 90 days and to renew that for another 90 days without congressional approval.
"Anybody who leaves in this call-up needs to expect that the probability that the president will extend it for an additional 90 days is very, very high," Matthews said. "You ought not to assume that at the end of 90 days you are going to be coming home."
Matthews also said unit members may have to spend more than 180 days in the Persian Gulf if a congressional declaration of war or a presidential declaration of a national emergency is announced.
"If that were to occur . . . it's a new ball game," Matthews said. "That's not the situation we're in right now, but the president and the Congress do have that authority."
The 120th Quartermaster Detachment and a cell of the 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion, both of Utah, are also on active duty and have had their tours extended from 90 days to 180 days.
Matthews also told the group that the Utah National Guard receives about 97 percent of its funding from the federal government to provide combat-ready troops in times of emergency.
"That is the purpose of our existence," he said. "What is happening here today is evidence that the country is relying more and more on the National Guard.
"You are extremely important in the event of hostility. They need to know that there's adequate medical capability to save the lives of the servicemen who may be involved in conflict," Matthews said. "(You) are trained to save those lives. You are needed."
The unit can provide state-of-the-art dental, surgical, X-ray, pharmaceutical and laboratory services to 400 patients, authorities said.
Gov. Norm Bangerter was also on hand to comfort and support unit members and their families. He encouraged them to be strong and expressed hope that the conflict will end soon.
"This is difficult . . . I know," the governor said. "This puts stress on your families and on your incomes. This isn't an easy thing to do.
"But we're absolutely hopeful that they'll find a peaceful settlement to the challenges we face in the Middle East. . . . I just want you to know that I appreciate the service that you give. You've been great soldiers," the governor said.
Maj. Bob Nelson, National Guard public affairs officer, said the group will leave in two cycles with the first one leaving Saturday at 5 a.m. and the second leaving Sunday at 2 a.m. in 12 commercial buses.