The Utah National Guard is responding to a critical shortage of licensed practical nurses in its ranks by offering special enlistment incentives and developing its own licensed practical nurse training program.

The shortage has taken its toll on the readiness status of the 144th Evacuation Hospital unit in Salt Lake City, which currently has only 38 of the 70 needed LPNs, said Capt. Brent Newren, chief of patient administration for the hospital unit.The guard is working with state business regulators to get a military training program approved, but that will take until July at best, Newren said. After that, two years will pass before the guard's training program would graduate its first LPN.

To respond to the immediate shortage, the guard is also offering enlistees who are already licensed LPNs an E-5 sergeant's rank once they emerge from basic training.

The guard is also steering interested recruits toward the six schools in the state with LPN programs and helping pay tuition costs with $5,400 from the GI bill and as much as $10,000 in student loans. But space in the schools is tight, and the number of schools across the nation that offer LPN training is decreasing.

While the military has its own regional schools that provide LPN training, recruits would have to go on active duty and leave their regular jobs to take advantage of that training.

With a training program in Salt Lake, recruits could be trained locally, live at home and keep their regular jobs while attending nursing classes on the traditional guard schedule - one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer.