Gov. Norm Bangerter pledged Friday to do what he could to help protect the health insurance, pay and rights of reservists heading overseas for Operation Desert Shield.
Bangerter addressed about 700 members of the Army Reserve's 328th General Hospital, and their families, during a meeting at the Huntsman Center, University of Utah. The reservists received word they are traveling to Germany, presumably because other Army units are shifted from Europe to the Middle East.The 328th, based at Fort Douglas, will be leaving on Monday, a week after they were activated. The members include nurses, doctors, technicians and other medical experts. They are capable of operating a 1,000-bed hospital.
Flanked by military brass, Bangerter said he believes President Bush is resolved to finding a solution to the Iraq crisis without a military conflict, if that can be done in terms of sound policies. "We know we have a tiger by the tail over there," the governor added.
"This will be an inconvenience, and it will be a hardship on you and your families who are left at home," he said.
"We just pray every day that you'll be blessed that you'll not have to undergo undue hardships - that you'll be able to return safely to your families."
Opening the session to a few questions, Bangerter fielded a query from a reservist who wanted to know if he will keep up the health insurance and pay level of reservists who work for the state. Bangerter said he has been meeting with officials on those issues in an attempt to do that.
He said the state has been urging employers to make up the difference in pay for service men and women, tapped for lower-paying jobs with the reserves. The state should do as much itself, he said.
"I personally favor that policy . . . If there's a legal way to do it with the Legislature, I'll authorize that." If not, the Legislature may consider the matter in its January session, he said.
Bangerter said he doesn't believe any state employee who is called up should lose his job. If that happened, special actions would be taken in an effort to ameliorate the impact, he said.
PFC Jay Brown, a 22-year-old operating room technician, told the Deseret News it will be difficult to leave his wife of three weeks.
"We're trying to establish a home. It's very hard," he said. "When you love that person so much, it's hard to say good-bye after having so little time together."
But Brown quickly added that the commitment he feels to the United States is as important as anything else in his life. "I'm willing to do anything to help the country, to help keep our freedom," he said.
Rosan Kerby Komatar, a nurse in the 328th who was married to Frank Komatar 10 weeks ago, said she is excited about going to Germany.
The situation is sad because of parting from her husband at Christmas, she added. "But he's very patriotic - he believes in our country. I'm patriotic - I believe in our country."
By coincidence, the third person the Deseret News interviewed at the assembly was married recently too - Spec. Ernie Casados wed on Tuesday.
His wife, Lonyel, is also in the 328th, but it isn't certain if she'll go with him to Germany.
"We signed up and (it's) something we gotta do," he said of the move overseas. "Can't back out, gotta go with it."
Brian Hunnewell, a clinical therapist who is single, said he is "looking forward to it. I've been to Germany before in the active-duty Air Force."
However, he said his girlfriend is "sad that I'm leaving, but she's glad that I'm going to Germany."
According to Maj. Bill Auer, spokesman for the 96th Army Reserves, based at Fort Douglas, reservists are often shocked when they get the notification that they'll be called into active duty. "After a day or two they start settling in, feeling that it's going to work," he said.
One factor that helps them adjust is that they learn that the military organizations are committed to helping their families cope with the changes. Auer said the reservists learn that they can leave jobs and families without the world falling apart, and then they feel better about the assignment.