Wednesday's failed Geneva talks and the possibility that National Guard and Reserve members could face extensions to their activation have family members more pessimistic about the Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.
Utah's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. John L. Matthews, told the Deseret News that word of the possible extensions may not be as bad as it appears. And Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said reservists have known all along they could be called to active duty and that the duty would last as long as was necessary."I think I had high hopes for the (Geneva talks). But I kind of knew down deep that there was just no way out of this," said Nita Wright, whose husband, Mike, and the American Fork-based Army National Guard water purification unit he is with have been working in the Saudi Arabian desert since Sept. 16.
Wright and other wives of the unit's members have been counting down the days until Feb. 22 - when they have been anticipating their husbands would return home. The Jan. 15 deadline has always been a concern, but even more distressing to the men in the desert was learning Defense Secretary Dick Cheney was molding a plan to extend Guard and Reserve call-ups beyond the authorized 180 days to possibly one year, she said.
But not until Wright made her way home from work Wednesday, already reeling from the news from Geneva, did she hear that Cheney is now seeking authority to keep Guard and Reserve troops for as long as two years. Speculation about the effects of Cheney's request circled the table again and again as the women met at a Provo restaurant Thursday evening to swap pictures and see who had the latest news.
Cheney would need approval from Congress to make the extensions, and a few days remain before the Jan. 15 United Nations deadline. But getting bad news about both items in one day has been hard to swallow back home.
Matthews, the commander of all Utah National Guard troops, said Cheney's request is geared at giving the Pentagon more options.
All of the Guard and Reserve troops that have left Utah so far have had orders for 180 days. That time frame was established to get troops activated and then home again if there was no conflict or if replacements were available, he said. "I know that two years is a scary number, but people ought not get too worried about it. If you're in the middle of an activity over there, it's pretty difficult to pull troops out."
Garn said he hopes no more Utah Guard and Reserve members have to be called up. "But if they are, that's what they signed up to do. They are volunteers, and they shouldn't complain about it."
Taylorsville resident Susan Griffith's stepson, Bryan, is in Saudi Arabia in the regular Army and is not directly affected by Cheney's efforts to extend Guard and Reserve troops. Griffith sees the Jan. 15 deadline as a way to keep Operation Desert Shield from turning into another Vietnam.
"My boy is right there on the front. But there's only one way to get him home, and that's to get the thing taken care of," she said. "I'd give anything if it would be a peaceful solution, but there's not going to be, so let's set a deadline and stick to it. What else can we do?"
Roy resident Dolores McRae said the bleak tone of Wednesday's press conferences from President Bush, Secretary of State James Baker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz was driven home by a call from her daughter, Camila, who is a member of the Murray-based 625th Military Police Company, which is scheduled to leave Fort Lewis, Wash., today for Saudi Arabia.
"They were hoping things would get settled down," McRae said, but as soon as the company members heard the press conferences, their superiors gave them time off to call home.
McRae is a member of the Navy Reserve. Her husband, Phil, is a helicopter pilot in the National Guard, and they have another daughter in the Navy. "When we joined the Reserve, we signed the papers and we knew what we were doing," she said. But the news has still been hard to take. "When they talked about extending to one year I didn't quite agree with that, but two years - wow."
Lynette, whose husband, Andy, has also been in Saudi Arabia since September, said she became more optimistic about the Geneva talks between Baker and Aziz as the time went on. "After six hours you think they'd be coming up with a solution. But I was kind of surprised. It was just one of those things that makes the pit in your stomach go a little deeper."
Her 4-year-old son, Dallin, has the name Saddam Hussein drilled into his vocabulary. "He keeps saying, `I just want to go over there and sock him in the nose.'
"I don't really know what I hope will happen. I hope for the best, but I don't know what that is," she said.
Reserve authority explained
Pentagon officials say the secretary of defense currently has authority to call 200,000 members of the Selected Reserve at any one time for periods not to exceed 180 days. To date, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney has directed the call-up of 188,000 reservists for Operation Desert Shield, and the secretary of transportation, who oversees the Coast Guard, to order to active duty 1,250 members for a total of 189,250.
Presidential authority over reserve components can be expanded to call 1 million members for up to two years if the president declares a national emergency, which he did Aug. 2 when financial sanctions were imposed on Iraq. Cheney has asked President Bush to delegate that call-up authority to him, but the request has not yet been granted.
"We have no intention of calling 1 million reservists, but that's the provision that is available for me to be able to extend those people in critical skills, whose services are now being utilized and whom we would like to keep for this period of time so we don't have to release them immediately back to reserve status," the Pentagon quoted Cheney as saying.