Many of Utah's National Guard and Reserve troops called to active duty to support Operation Desert Shield have found themselves being shot at before ever leaving the state.
Newspaper and television cameras have been shooting pictures of the Utah soldiers as they prepare to leave their homes, families and civilian jobs after being called to active duty by President Bush.Public affairs officers for both the Army Reserve and Utah National Guard say the frequent contacts they have had with local media lately has been positive overall, but both the media and the military have observed a a few casualties, including the added fright some soldiers have experienced by facing the cameras, note pads and microphones for the first time.
- A television reporter boarded a bus full of soldiers as it was getting ready to leave the state and delayed the departure by doing a live broadcast on board. The delay strained the patience of officers supervising the unit and of the family members waiting outside, according to some observers.
- An officer grilled several members of his unit harshly to make sure they did not say anything that would make the unit look bad after they were interviewed by reporters this week.
- A news crew covering the departure of the Army Reserve's 419th Transportation Company got a sharp, disgruntled reaction from a soldier they interviewed as he walked into the armory. He was not part of the 419th but was cross because he thought the reporters had heard his unit was being called up before he got any word through military channels, said Maj. Bill Auer, spokesman for the 96th Army Reserve Command at Fort Douglas.
"I have tried to schedule the media time in there," he said, "But I wasn't real tickled when we told the press to stay away from the 419th and they went down there and stuck microphones in peoples' faces without waiting for the time we had told them."
Auer said the military has been trying to get the news out for years that the reserve components would play a significant role in a major U.S. military action. Now that the media and the once part-time soldiers involved have seen that process work, the officers in charge of public affairs have to give reporters a quick education.
"I try real hard not to use jargon, not to use acronyms" the military is famous for, Auer said. "But we do it. I do it. I hate it, but I think the media's handled that fairly well."
Maj. Bob Nelson, spokesman for the Utah National Guard, said the few reporters he has talked to who are veterans understand military operations better, leaving him with fewer questions about procedures to answer. But once reporters acclimate themselves to the military activities, the questions Nelson said he fields are about the same regardless of whether the reporter has had military experience.
Mix-ups down the line have also caused some heartburn as reporters have either misunderstood or "adjusted" information, Nelson said. "Several times the media said an alert was an activation and news stations speculated a unit would be activated. That has created very real worry in the families of unit members."
"I still find myself having to educate some reporters on the difference between the Guard and Reserve and about the structure of a given unit and what sorts of things they do," Nelson said.
Nelson said he has also tried to provide as much information as possible to keep reporters from having to "fish around for soft information."
"How you cover a story is not my business. How you get the information is my business," Nelson said.
The public affairs officers in Utah broke new ground early in the call-up process by being one of the first states in the nation to arrange for local media to accompany a deploying National Guard unit to Saudi Arabia in September.
The Guard has collected dozens of newspaper clippings and 21/2 hours worth of television news broadcasts that resulted from the trip. Both the Guard and Reserves have been instructed to save all news clippings and forward them to a higher headquarters - Guard Bureau in the Pentagon in the National Guard's case, and Sixth Army headquarters in the Army Reserve's case.
The Pentagon's reaction: "The Guard Bureau has been pleased on the whole with coverage here," Nelson said.
Differences in the way the Air Force, Reserves and National Guard have handled the release of information has caused some frustration for reporters who are trying to keep the military's rules straight.
The Army Reserve, for example, allows its members to decide whether to give their first and last names to reporters while the National Guard allows only first names to be used.
Both reserve component branches have given fairly specific information about the number of soldiers that have been called to active duty from Utah while Air Force officials at Hill Air Force Base quote Pentagon rules when refusing to give any numbers about Utah-based soldiers that have been deployed to the Middle East.