Iranians can't seem to make up their minds about whom they hate more, says a linguist who just returned from the Middle East: It's either Iraq, their traditional enemies, or the "Great Satan," better known as the United States.
In civilian life, Ronald G. Peterson, Tooele, is a district manager for a utility company. He returned from Utah National Guard duty in the Persian Gulf area the day before Thanksgiving. During a recent meeting of the state's Dugway Committee - on which he is a representative for Tooele - he was sporting a deep suntan in the middle of December.Peterson is a chief petty officer in the Utah National Guard's 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion. Part of a group called up for active duty in August, he was the only one trained in Farsi, the language of Iran.
Recently, the Pentagon decided that Middle East language specialists needed for Operation Desert Shield were those who spoke Arabic, and Peterson was sent home. The rest of the detachment of Utah linguists are still there.
During the three months he was in the Middle East, time hung heavy on the American soldiers. Peterson put his to good use - brushing up on Farsi and learning to juggle. "It (juggling) was something I always wanted to do," he said.
He listened to the local radio stations, trying to improve his language ability. "Every once in a while you could get stations from Iran coming through, and their perspective as to what was going on was interesting.
"Of course, we're still the `Great Satan,' you know. It was interesting that even though they hated the Iraqis, I guess they hate us more."
The Iranians seem to be wondering which is the worse of the two countries, he said. They also had "little compassion for what was going on there."
Those soldiers who didn't have ambition to try and improve during the long days in the desert "did a lot of sleeping," he said. "And those were the complainers, you know."
Peterson lived in a warehouse complex, in an Arabic country that officially is not supposed to be identified. "There was some air conditioning there, but it was very crowded," he said.
"Even though there were women and men, there were very few accommodations given to women as opposed to men. In the area that I was in, there were a good percentage that were women."
They had special "shower hours," but few other concessions.
The Utah linguists were not able to stay together, but were farmed out to other units where their interpreting skills were in demand. "I was able to get out a little" and to keep in touch with the rest of the Utahns.
"Everywhere I went there were congregations, groups of LDS servicemen meeting together. The meetings that I was at were well-attended. There were a number of group leaders. Every compound that I went to, I saw notices for the Catholic, Jewish, Protestant and LDS services."
The story went around that soldiers going to the Islamic countries could not take Bibles or other religious writings with them. That's not true, he said. "You can take religious material if you use it for yourself, so there are no problems taking the scriptures or your own personal religious material."
When the linguists arrived, there were few amenities. Only in November did books, VCRs, basketballs, volleyballs and nets start to arrive.
Those who were there either read books and traded them around, tried to improve themselves, or wasted time. "I did language study," he said.
Some training took place, but it was of a repetitious nature. A class in first aid might last half a day, and how many times did a soldier want to take the same class? Because of the threats of terrorists and the cultural differences that might cause problems, "the soldiers were confined to their quarters . . . the downtown areas are off-limits. Most soldiers didn't get out and about."
Because of his job, Peterson was able to get around more than most. "Even though I studied that culture for many years, learning the Farsi language, the stark reality of the differences in that culture were brought to bear.
"Being in close quarters that we were, and having the time that we did, there were some close companionships that were made - friendships. Whenever you got a letter from home you shared the information with everybody, basically.
"Whenever you got a box from home, it was community property . . . There were relationships there that I will never lose."
When he got word that he was coming back, his wife, Shauna, and their eight children were "excited, as well as I was . . . We had anticipated the stay to be probably six months . . .
"They were happy to see me. I was glad to get back, to get back to our normal life."
Challenges of call-up
Ronald G. Peterson, a Utah National Guard linguist who just returned to Tooele after serving three months in the Middle East, discovered how inconvenient a call-up can be.
He said he was notified on a Saturday in August that he must report for duty the following Monday. His group life insurance was effectively canceled while he was overseas because it has a "war clause."
"Then there were the challenges of medical insurance and so forth. We got those worked out, but I'm sure Reserves and National Guardsmen should see what their company's policy is with regard to those things," he said.
"And then there are those who are faced with a significant financial reduction in pay." Although some companies make up the difference between the employee's normal wages and the low pay he gets as an activated member of the military, "in my case that wasn't the case."