About 600 members of the Army Reserve's 328th General Hospital unit came home Sunday morning without having done what they had expected to do, and they couldn't have been happier about it.
Noting that the 328th was mobilized in December to treat what many believed would be a large number of casualties from Operation Desert Storm, Maj. Gen. Donald M. Bagley Jr. said, "It didn't happen, and that's OK."Bagley, the commander of the 96th Army Reserve, greeted the returning reservists with praise for their service, pride in their performance and appreciation for their sacrifice.
"On behalf of a grateful nation, I welcome you back to your families, back to your communities, back to your lives," Bagley said.
An estimated 4,000 friends and family members crowded into a cavernous hangar at Salt Lake City's Hudson General Aviation center to celebrate the early homecoming. The 328th was originally scheduled to return to Utah from Ft. Carson, Colo., on Monday by bus, which would have taken them 12 hours.
Instead, military officials arranged to fly the 328th home on Sunday, and the first of the five planeloads of personnel landed at about 6:30 a.m. All had arrived by about 8 a.m.
"Welcome home Uncle Andy!" said one extra long banner held by a half dozen young nieces and nephews.
Reservist Andrew Nash - "Uncle Andy" - was happy to be home, though tired. He said he intended to sleep through his first day back.
Sandra Nash, Layton, said her son was called to duty just a few months after serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "He hasn't been home much in 31/2 years."
His sister, Deanna Nielsen, said, "We're all excited to have him back."
Reservist Gail Roper said he was looking forward to going back to work on his farm in Vineyard, Utah County. The father of six, Roper acknowledged that the mobilization had greatly disrupted his life but said he was happy to serve.
Because of the small number of American casualties, the 328th saw very little of the anticipated medical work, which was "great," said Roper and everyone else who was asked about the war's outcome. "Everybody feels that way," Roper said.
Reservist Tina Okerlund had definite plans for her first day back. "I'm going to party, party, party! I'll sleep tomorrow."
After being activated on Dec. 3, the 328th was sent to Frankfurt, Germany. From there its members were assigned to 24 medical facilities throughout Europe.
Bagley said the 328th came back at least eight months sooner than anyone anticipated, and he asked, "Are you happy to be home?"
"Yeah!" the reservists roared in reply.
"Families, are you happy to have them home?"
The "Yeah!" was even louder.
Also on hand to welcome the 328th home were Gov. Norm Bangerter and Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis. "You did a fantastic job," the governor said.