Utah Army Reservists anxious to return home after spending three months in Germany are finding out that no war is over until the paperwork is done.
The long-awaited trip home began this week when about 600 members of the Salt Lake City-based 328th General Hospital left Germany and crossed eight time zones in the direction of home - but had to stop short of their final destination. Before their three-month active duty tour is over, the Army must exchange green identification cards for pink ones, scrutinize pay records, review legal documents and collect tents and other equipment in a "demobilization" process that could take as long as six days.It's uncertain whether soldiers returning from Saudi Arabia will have to turn in the desert fatiilization process, before leaving Germany. On the other hand, the Army staff at Fort Carson has never conducted a demobilization before. "The 328th is going to be a test," said Lt. Col. Willie Steele, director of reserve component support at Fort Carson.
And having more than 600 people in the unit makes it a big test at that. "But I feel like we have darn good plan put together," he added.
Several hundred people will be involved in processing the group through its transition back to reserve status.
"Everything we're doing here, besides being required, is for the good of the individual," Steele said. "We're assuring he's leaving in good health, he's getting all the pay he's got coming to him and he's got full credit for his active duty."
The process varies for each branch of the military. Air Force and Air National Guard troops returning to Utah have flown directly to Salt Lake City. But for the approximately 2,300 Army Reservists and Utah Army National Guard members called to active duty during Operation Desert Storm, the last leg of the trip home will follow a demobilization stay at the base from which they left the United States - either Fort Carson or Fort Lewis, Wash.
The 328th isn't scheduled to leave Fort Carson until Monday, but officers at the fort were optimistic the group could leave at least one day earlier.
A few Utahns decided not to wait the last few days for a homecoming and drove to Colorado Springs to meet their spouses' plane with the hope of spending free time together until the demobilization process is completed. The Army is discouraging therendezvous but has made some concessions to accommodate the visitors:
- Family members have been allowed access to Peterson Air Force Base, where the arriving planes land. But security on the tarmac is tight and all reunions have to wait until the soldiers get inside a nearby hangar where a short ceremony and an Army band meet each group.
- Soldiers wishing to forgo the chance to spend the week bunking on cots lined end-to-end in several Fort Douglas gymnasiums are being given permission to stay with their visiting families at motels. Travel off the fort is unrestricted as long as the soldiers report for required activities.
"It's hard to be so close and yet not be home, said Pleasant Grove resident Karmel Clay, who drove to Colorado to meet her husband, Staff Sgt. Gary Clay.
For Sgt. Clay, this homecoming is a poignant contrast to the greeting he received upon his return from Vietnam.
"He doesn't talk about it much," his wife said, "But this one's been a lot better."
Capt. Bruce Gladwell, an anesthesiologist from Ogden, was met at the air base by the two things he wanted to see most: his wife, Ann, and his golf clubs.
Sue Alley, also from Ogden, met her husband, Maj. Rob Alley, when his plane landed at 1 a.m. Tuesday. She brought news that her husband, a surgeon, was anticipating: "When the war got over I got calls from some of his patients asking when he would get back."
One of Steele's concerns is that too many visitors will slow the process. "The whole thing is going to be driven by people being where they're supposed to be at the time they're supposed to be there. If people take off, that is going to kill us."
Something Steele anticipates will agitate some families is a requirement for all of the soldiers to travel together, probably by bus, from Fort Carson to their home base. His advice to those making such travel plans: "Please don't do that."
Traveling home in private cars would water down homecoming plans that are being planned for each of the returning units. But more than that, Steele doesn't want anything happening to individuals while they are his responsibility - which does not end until after they report to their home station.
If anyone leaves the fort apart from the group, he said, it would likely be someone who is kept longer. Because the group did not go to a combat area, some dental work, for example, might not have been completed during the mobilization process. But it must be completed before the soldier leaves active duty and is no longer eligible for medical benefits, Steele said.
Any injuries suffered while on active duty must also be treated as completely as possible before the soldier leaves Fort Carson.
Winding Down\ The Army demobilization process consists of the following steps:
Day 1 - Soldiers are given a free day or spend the remainder of the arrival day recovering from jet lag. This "zero day" can be bypassed if the company commander determines his group members have enough energy to be attentive at briefings and perform other work.
Day 2 - Green active-duty identification cards are exchanged for pink cards. Physical and dental exams are conducted and any needed treatment is given. Financial records are reviewed to determine how much money the Army will owe each soldier at the time he leaves active duty.
Day 3 - Physical and dental exams continue. Soldiers attend required briefings about legal procedures, family support activities, educational benefits. They also have to account for military equipment checked out to them for the deployment. Equipment not needed at their home base is checked in.
Day 4 - Equipment check-in continues. A rough draft of future drill schedules and training plans is developed for the next year.
Day 5 - Financial data is verified. Separation papers are drawn up, indicating the term of active duty, and each soldier is interviewed to make sure the forms are correct.
Day 6 - Checks are delivered for all pay and allowances due the soldiers, who then prepare to travel home the following day.