Utah's reserve component troops are pulling their weight in Operation Desert Storm and are receiving good support from home, Utah's adjutant general told the Salt Lake Rotary Club Tuesday.
Maj. Gen. John L. Matthews said Utahns helped build the "Atlantic Bridge," shuttling fighter aircraft from the United States to the Middle East, within 36 hours after Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2. Aerial refueling tankers from Salt Lake City transferred 40 tons of jet fuel to other aircraft every 45 minutes for 20 hours straight at one point.Since then, more than 3,000 Utah National Guard and Reserve troops, which combine to make up forces known as the "reserve component," have left the state in support of the gulf war. That number represents 21 percent of the Army National Guard and Reserve troops in the state, well above the national average of 14 percent per state, and above all states in the Sixth Army area, which stretches from the Dakotas to California.
Utah played a large role in the conflict because of the quality of reserve component troops in the state, Matthews said. When reserve component troops were selected, "Quality was either a penalty or an advantage, depending on how you look at it."
Only a handful of those troops have returned to Utah, with the first 17 Utah Air National Guard members scheduled to arrive in Salt Lake City Wednesday afternoon following three months of active duty in Saudi Arabia.
Another 360 or so Army Reservists from the 328th General Hospital, now in Germany, could be home within the week.
But other Utahns, some linguists and military police from the Army National Guard, are still quite busy in Saudi Arabia dealing with the thousands of Iraqis who surrendered to allied forces during the ground offensive.
Matthews said the Guard and Reserve troops performed well. A mobilization commander at Fort Carson said Utah Army National Guard troops were the best-prepared troops the fort processed.
Matthews said three groups came to his office last week with a total of $18,000 they had raised to help military families who have suffered financially because a breadwinner has been called to active duty - leaving civilian wages for usually lower military pay.
Matthews encouraged employers to continue showing support for workers while they remain away from their jobs and when they return. He thanked supportive financial institutions and lauded the state's colleges and universities for allowing students called to active duty to withdraw without penalty.
In past mobilizations, as many as 60 percent of reserve component troops left their units when they returned home. "I hope the civilian community won't put undue pressure on them to leave their units," Matthews said.