Seven hundred Army reservists bade farewell to loved ones Sunday night amid traffic jams, mountains of duffel bags and throngs of well-wishers the likes of which have not been seen at Fort Douglas since the Korean War.
"It hasn't been this busy up here for a long, long time," said Maj. Bill Auer as he scanned the crowd.Traffic control officers who were posted at the entrance to the usually tranquil fort estimated that as many as 5,000 people were on hand for the departure of members of the 328th General Hospital Reserve.
The reservists - doctors, nurses, technicians and other medical specialists - were called to active duty Dec. 3. At 7 p.m. Sunday, they boarded 15 buses bound for Fort Carson, Colo., and will go on from there to bases in Germany and other European countries.
At the same time Sunday, 111 members of the 625th Military Police Company of the Army National Guard also left Utah, but their destination was the Persian Gulf. The unit left from the National Guard Armory in Murray and was scheduled to stop at Fort Lewis, Wash., before joining Operation Desert Shield.
Also, a dozen members of the crash, fire and rescue section of the 151st Civil Engineering Squadron of the Utah Air National Guard are scheduled to be called to active duty Tuesday. They probably will be sent to Castle Air Force Base, Calif., to replace personnel who have gone to Saudi Arabia.
Similarly, the 328th's assignment is to replace regular military medical units in Europe. The fact that they were going to Europe instead of the war-poised gulf made the separations from family and friends somewhat easier, "but not much," many said Sunday night.
"We got the luck of the draw," said reservist Anton Wozab. "I'd say that going to Germany is better than going to Saudi Arabia.""It's a lot better," one of his young relatives said, a view others echoed.
Wozab, a roofing contractor, said it was also lucky for him that the call-up came in winter, when there is less work to do. He expects to be away for the full six-month tour of duty. "When we get back, it will be the busy time again."
His optimistic attitude was little consolation to his friend Linda Heredia, who is also a member of the 328th but who is staying behind. "The toughest part is him leaving," she said, wiping away a tear.
Lt. Col. Darlene Meservy, a faculty member at the University of Utah's department of occupational health and environmental sciences, said being assigned to Germany rather than the Persian Gulf was a "blessing." She said she was leaving with mixed emotions.
"We're a very close-knit family," she said, gathering a large number of relatives around her, "and it's very difficult to leave them, especially at this time of year."
However, she wasn't leaving them all behind. Going with her to Germany was a daughter-in-law and four cousins, all members of the 328th. Her son, who just recently transferred out of the 328th, will be staying home with his four children, Meservy noted with a wry smile, "while his wife and mother get called to duty."
Like all of the reservists, Meservy had only a few days to collect her thoughts before the departure Sunday. She was unprepared to say whether she believes she will be reunited with her loved ones before the six months are up. "I haven't looked that far ahead," she said. "Right now, I'm just very grateful for all this love and support from my family."
Sgt. First Class Dotie Mahan, a nurse at Holy Cross Hospital, said she has a nephew serving on an island in the Persian Gulf. "This can't be anywhere near as bad as that," she said.
However, she had hoped to spend Christmas this year with her family in Iowa. "That won't happen now," she said sadly. Glancing at the emotional scenes around her, she added, "It's terrible to see all of these families being separated like this."