U.S. plans Kurdish camps despite Iraqi objections, A6.The Utah Army National Guard's 144th Evacuation Hospital's outstanding performance record in Saudi Arabia is outpaced by only one thing - its sagging morale.
The accolades, it seems, may be earning the hospital an extended tour of duty while other military hospitals have packed up and returned home - including the Army Reserve's 328th General Hospital, the 144th's companion medical facility from Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City.The 144th began its trek toward the Middle East Nov. 14 while the 328th left Dec. 3 for various locations in Germany. The 328th is now home after never seeing the battlefield while members of the 144th remain away from their civilian jobs.
"They bring back the people that have been drinking German beer and sleeping in beds," said the frustrated spouse of a 144th member.
"At least they got to come home for Christmas," said a returning member of the 328th, which left for Germany Dec. 17 while the 144th was able to travel home for Christmas from their mobilization station at Fort Carson, Colo.
Saying those two comments represented the feelings the entire 700-member 328th and the 423-member 144th have about each other would be unfair: Members of both organizations point out that they had no say in choosing their Operation Desert Storm assignment.
Some complaints about the 144th's extended duty are squelched by the fear that making noise will only further delay the hospital's return.
The latest "rumor" is that the hospital could pack up and move to Turkey before coming home because of the increased U.S. military aid to Kurds fleeing Iraq. The other rumor is that the hospital could be headed home by May 15.
"The 144th has such an outstanding reputation over there that they're going to have a hard time getting out," said Maj. Gen. John L. Matthews, Utah's adjutant general. He said the hospital has been busy and that medical forces wouldn't be taken out of the theater ahead of other forces that might need medical care.
The 144th's commanders in Riyadh face the complicated management task of protecting the reputation they have earned while fending off the sour morale.
Staff Sgt. A.J. Walkowski, assigned to the 144th, has corresponded occasionally with the Deseret News about conditions in Riyadh as seen by the hospital staff. Superior officers told him to stop corresponding after he called the paper March 1. They reversed the order when morale started to plummet. "Now they're telling me they want more publicity," he said.
The hope, he said, is for the tone of the communications between home and Riyadh to improve once the hospital's outstanding achievements are better known. "They're afraid that some of our people here might not appreciate the fact that they're participating and might not want to continue to be members" when they do return home, Walkowski said during a phone conversation that preceded his first officially sanctioned press dispatch.
"The exceptional manner in which the hospital is carrying out its mission and . . . the superior performance of the personnel that comprise this unit" are among the reasons the hospital is staying in Riyadh, he wrote several days later.