Some of Utah's Reserve and National Guard troops that will still be in the states over Christmas are getting some time off - and now they're working on getting a ride home.
The more than 400 members of the Utah Army National Guard's 144th Evacuation Hospital have been told they can take a four-day leave from their mobilization station at Fort Carson, Colo., either from Dec. 19-23 or Dec. 22-26.So far, an organization to be named Thursday has promised to donate $2,500 to help the 144th charter a bus or two to bring hospital members home for Christmas. The military does not pay for personal travel, so volunteers have stepped in to help the lower-paid personnel find transportation if they can't afford to pay for a trip on their own, said Maj. Bob Nelson, spokesman for the Utah National Guard.Guard officials had not heard as of Wednesday whether the 111 Utahns from the Murray-based 625th Military Police Company currently at Fort Lewis, Wash., will have enough time off at Christmas to consider a trip home.
The 50 members of the Army Reserve's 321st Medical Detachment in Salt Lake are also at Fort Carson and will be able to leave the fort between Dec. 22-26, according to the public affairs office there. "They're trying to charter a bus" so they can come home for Christmas, a spokeswoman said.
Whether the 321st travels home for Christmas will be left up to the unit, said Maj. Bill Auer, public affairs officer for the 96th Army Reserve Command at Fort Douglas. "But the Army Reserve is not going out begging for someone to pay their way home."
Utahns in the Marine Corps Reserve who are at Camp LeJune, N.C., will have Christmas day off only, which hardly leaves them time to make the 2,000-mile trek to Utah for Christmas and back, said 1st Sgt. David Hawkins. Several people have called and asked if they would be allowed to see their Marine family members if they traveled to Camp LeJune. "I would think it would not be a problem, but it would be a long trip for one day," Hawkins said. "I don't know what the guidance is from the battalion" in North Carolina, he said.
Nelson said the Utah National Guard headquarters has received a number of inquiries from people who want to donate money to help the soldiers get home for a holiday. Arrangements have been made for a transportation fund for the 144th Evacuation Hospital at all Zion's First National Bank locations. Donors should specify that the deposit be made to the 144th Evacuation Hospital's account, which is 19-334614. Any excess donations would be used for support programs for the families of deployed Guard members, Nelson said.