Few people knew Utahns were involved in the Middle East military buildup when the first Air National Guard tankers left Salt Lake City Aug. 6, just four days after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
The guard members volunteered for the duty and no official public mention was made of their mission at first.But the publicity spread quickly as the numbers grew when President Bush began calling on Utah's part-time soldiers from the National Guard, Navy Reserve, Army Reserve and most recently the Marine Corps. Active duty Air Force personnel from Hill Air Force Base are also involved.
And now it is difficult to find someone without some kind of tie to a soldier in the Middle East. And the only branch of military service in Utah not involved in the buildup is the Coast Guard, which comes under Defense Department control only when Congress declares war or an emergency.
Even though the Utah Air National Guard was the first military branch involved, it has not experienced an official call-up but remains able to fill aerial refueling missions with crews of volunteers.
The other branches have experienced formal activations, which for the reserve components obligates their members for 90 to 180 days of active duty service before they can return home to their civilian jobs.
The military branch in Utah with the most members involved in supporting Operation Desert Shield is the Air Force, but a close estimate of the number of soldiers involved is difficult because the Air Force, unlike all other branches of the military, refuses to release any numbers.
The second-largest Utah contingent is the Army National Guard's 144th Evacuation Hospital, which has about 423 members that are scheduled to leave Salt Lake City Saturday and Sunday.
Utahns' military jobs represented so far also include fighter aircraft and aerial refueling tankers and their support crews, a petroleum trucking company, linguists trained in Middle Eastern languages, a water purification team, assorted medical support personnel and a light armored vehicle battalion.