An Operation Desert Storm experiment in military efficiency has 16 Arabic-speaking Utahns believing they've been needlessly shuffling around in the Saudi Arabian desert for the past eight months.
When the Army needed linguists, the Utah National Guard decided to send a cell of 18 Arabic-speaking soldiers rather than follow more traditional practices and activate the entire 400-member 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion."We used a method to avoid unnecessarily mobilizing individuals who did not have the skills that were needed," said Maj. Gen. John L. Matthews, Utah's adjutant general and commander of all National Guard troops in the state.
That was in August.
Two of the 18 have been able to return home, but the remaining 16 are feeling lost and abandoned. President Bush's first-in, first-out policy for bringing troops home has overlooked the small group. Linguists with much larger groups arrived in the Middle East after the Utah linguists and have since gone home, they say.
In an open letter home, several of the linguists say they have seldom been able to use or practice their language skills and that they're being kept in the Middle East needlessly.
Zachary Madsen, one of the linguists, has had conversations in the local Arabic dialect with a total of six Iraqi deserters, according to his sister, Rebecca Andersen, and mother, Arlene Madsen. His letters indicate that he has had little to do most of the time and that his busy times are spent doing work outside of his job as a linguist."From September to January, there was little, if any, work for the detachment linguists despite their repeated efforts to gain language experience in the country. MI (military intelligence) commanders would seldom allow linguists the opportunities to improve their language skills by interacting with local Arab population. One exception of this was the interrogation of Iraqi line-crossers before the ground offensive," wrote Staff Sgt. Bill Moedel, Sgt. Kent Lundquist and specialists Dave Bowles and Brent Adler recently. Their letter was conveyed to Utah's congressional delegation and military officials both in Utah and in Washington.
"As I pointed out to the deputy chief of intelligence," Matthews said, "if the Army penalizes us for making that decision and does not get these people home promptly, then what we will have learned is that we can't proceed in that (procedure) in the future."
Judy Lundquist, whose husband, Kent, helped write the letter to the congressional delegation and others, said the Utahns are separated from each other most of the time and don't have a regular command chain to keep track of them. Their command changes so often that mail seldom reaches the Utahns.
She and other wives of unit members are pursuing an aggressive campaign to make sure the military doesn't completely forget about the linguists. "We've presumed they're kind of an experiment and that nobody knows what to do with them."
The Utah National Guard is not part of the group's chain of command as long as they are on active duty. But Matthews said the troops have not been forgotten locally. Tracking the soldiers and getting their eventual orders home is more a function of unit attachment than anything else, he said. "But since they do not have a headquarters of their own, that is where we have to be sure they are not lost."