An increasing fear that Utah troops in the Middle East will see a shooting war after Jan. 15 has heightened the interest in knowing which Utahns are stationed there and what their involvement might be if hostilities break out.
Military officials have given fairly accurate counts of the number of people involved and the tasks they perform, but the information stops cold when it could interfere with either security or strategy secrets.Reporters working in Saudi Arabia are required to sign documents before a military witness agreeing not to disclose the location of certain military units or even photograph them near landmarks that could reveal their position.
Other sensitivities outlined in a two-page document of dos and don'ts are also off limits to reporters in Saudi Arabia. Deseret News and other Utah reporters that were in Saudi Arabia faced having film and video tape confiscated for documenting an event local officials considered controversial.
"There is a reason the Department of Defense is not allowing information relative to the specific locations of units," said Maj. Bob Nelson, spokesman for the Utah National Guard. "Communicating that publicly would help the opposition forces to understand more clearly what it is that they're confronted with. And that isn't helpful to our cause."
The number of soldiers who left Utah to participate in Operation Desert Shield is split between the approximately 2,000 Air Force personnel from Hill Air Force Base and about 2,000 members of National Guard and Reserve component forces from around the state. Some of the reserve component forces from Utah are assigned to stateside locations or installations in Germany and Japan for their part in the operation.
The Air Force has been the most restrictive when releasing information about the number of people supporting the two F-16 squadrons that left the state in late August.
Maj. Gen. John L. Matthews, state adjutant general over the Utah National Guard, said he's able to keep pretty close track of the Utah Guard troops now under federal control, but the Pentagon doesn't call the state every time it moves National Guard troops. Once under federal control, Utah National Guard troops are no longer under the state's command.
Officials avoid speculating on what troops could move where, or what could happen if certain conditions develop. "Speculation on my part or on General Matthews' part would produce information that is unsound and potentially wrong," Nelson said.
Official speculation aside, the rumor mill has been extremely active since Desert Shield began, displaying, at times, incredible accuracy while being dead wrong at other times.
"We're not really very anxious to deal with anything except official information," Nelson said. "The public in Utah ought not be fed information based on our personal opinions, but only based on what we know. Opinions can create an impression that may not be accurate."
Utah troops in Saudi Arabia
Elements of the 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion
Interrogators: 80 Army National Guard linguists trained to interrogate prisoners, defectors and insurgents.
Linguists: 18 Army National Guard linguist capable of performing transiation functions in several Arab dialects.
120th Quartermaster Detachment
Water purification team: 14 Army National Guard personnel operating equipment capable of treating sea and wellwater for drinking and other uses.
4th 421st Tactical Fighter Squadrons
About 2,000 Air Force personnel supporting two F-16 squadrons that include about 50 aircraft.
31st Medical Detachment
50 Army reservists flying and maintaining "Huey" medical evacuation helicopters.
144th Evacuation Hospital
About 423 Army National Guard personnel in a mobile field hospital capable of providing a full range of medical services.
4th Light Armored Battalion Company E
About 100 Maine Corps reservists equipped with light armored vehicles capable of crossing land and shallow water.
419th Transportation Company
About 170 Army reservists operating fuel transportation trucks.
625th Military Police Company
111 military police trained to guard U.S. installations and prisoners.