The 125 members of the Utah National Guard's 625th Military Police Company have been placed on alert for possible duty to support Operation Desert Shield.
Just as the recent activation of the National Guard's 144th Evacuation Hospital strained the Salt Lake area's civilian health-care industry, the most recent alert could affect area law enforcement agencies if the military police company is activated.Concerns about the impact that the activation of Reserve Component troops could have on Utah's service infrastructure prompted Gov. Norm Bangerter to ask for a comparison of Utah's part-time military forces called to service in the Persian Gulf compared to other states.
Members of the military police company were notified of the alert, as was the governor, beginning Monday evening. "The 125 members of the unit are being notified that their company is being put on alert for a possible 180-day activation for Desert Shield," said Maj. Bob Nelson, spokesman for the Utah National Guard.
Nelson stressed that the unit has not been activated and that it will take no formal activation toward mobilizing until it receives formal notice of an activation. Information about the ultimate destination of the unit would not be available until after an official activation, he said.
Tuesday's announcement of the alert follows the activation, to support Operation Desert Shield, of the 120th Quartermaster Detachment in American Fork, a cell of the 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion in Draper and the 144th Evacuation Hospital's activation that was completed Sunday when more than 400 hospital members left Utah for a mobilization stop in Fort Carson, Colo.
Members of the military intelligence battalion and the quartermaster detachment are still in Saudi Arabia.
The mission of the 625th Military Police Company is to provide guards for prisoner of war and civilian internees and for U.S. military installations and facilities.
Information from the unit provided to the governor's office shows that 18 of the 125 men and women in the unit have civilian jobs as police officers, Utah Highway Patrol troopers or state corrections officers. The effect that an activation would have on the various law enforcement agencies the Guard members work for would be the most troublesome for smaller departments that would have a harder time absorbing the loss of an officer for 180 days.
By law, employers must hold a Guard or Reserve member's job to offer them when they return from active duty.
With Utah's Guard and Reserve participation in Operation Desert Shield growing rapidly, Bangerter requested a comparison with other states Tuesday to make sure the activations of Utah's part-time troops are not disproportionate compared to other states.
Preliminary figures collected for the governor by Maj. Gen. John L. Matthews, the state's adjutant general, indicate Utah now has 9 percent of its National Guard forces involved in Operation Desert Shield. The national average for states is 10.4 percent.
"National Guard figures show us we have not been disproportionately impacted," said Francine Giani, the governor's press secretary.
Much harder hit are southern states like Louisiana and Mississippi, which both have more than 46 percent of their National Guard troops involved in Operation Desert Shield. Georgia has 43.45 percent of its National Guard on active duty. In contrast, none of Idaho's National Guard troops have been activated, Giani said.
Rumors that the 600-plus members of the Army Reserve's 328th General Hospital at Fort Douglas are poised for an alert for active duty have fueled speculations about what would happen to health care along the Wasatch Front if another group of doctors and nurses is called away.
Dr. Earl Duke, commanding officer of the Guard's 144th Evacuation Hospital, said he left his medical practice in Logan to a partner, who is a member of the Army Reserve's 328th General Hospital. If both hospitals were activated it would wipe out the practice, he said.
But Maj. Bill Auer, spokesman for the 96th Army Reserve Command at Fort Douglas, said no one from the general hospital has been put on alert. He said the hospital has appeared on a Defense Department warning list several times and is on a most recent list.
Activated units start on the warning list, but the list in and of itself is virtually meaningless, Auer said. "All it means is that somebody is looking at the unit." That "somebody" could be the Pentagon or it could be military officials elsewhere that are jockeying the Army's resources to see who and what is available.
Company commanders and key officers in a unit are notified if their unit makes the warning list. "I don't get excited until they get in an alert status," Auer said.
"I'll call the governor when the 328th gets alerted, if they do," Auer said.