A new reserve unit drilling near Fort Douglas has uniforms that range in color from Army green to Navy blue and are covered with more brass than a marching band.
Eighteen of the unit's 42 members are lieutenant colonels. Another 10 are majors. Needless to say, finding that kind of rank in one unit isn't common. But perhaps even more unusual is the fact that members of the Army-controlled unit also come from the Air Force and Navy, and recruiters in the unit are looking for a few good Marines, too.Col. Allen Nunn said the unit he commands, the 6396th Joint Service Staff Reinforcement Training Unit, is a pilot program created by the Army under the 96th Army Reserve Command.
The members receive retirement points for drilling every Wednesday night, but are paid only for the two-week active-duty exercises they attend.
Most of the unit's members have extensive educational backgrounds in addition to their years of military training. There are no flunkies, Nunn said. His biggest problem as a commander is keeping ahead of the tasks he assigns to unit members who are judges, lawyers and businessmen. "They're always nipping at my heels," he said. "There's always something challenging for them to do."
With all of that training and experience, the unit is used as a military think tank, and its members supplement other reserve commands in specialized areas of psychological operations, communications, linguistics and intelligence. Members use their military expertise to direct training exercises for units in the Pacific.
Some members are also incorporated in civil defense activities and work with federal emergency management teams. The number of specialties will increase as the unit grows, Nunn said.
Without this kind of unit, Nunn said, the men and one woman under his command would have their military careers left on hold while they either waited for an opening that fit their rank, or for retirement.
"There's some self respect here," Nunn said. "They still want to participate.
Of the various reserve commands in the Salt Lake area, the Navy has one of the smallest. Navy Cmdr. Robert Kuhn left the Navy reserve unit at Fort Douglas when the only other choices were to turn down the promotion he had earned in order to keep his position there, or transfer to Concord, Calif.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Marilyn Hamblin was in the same boat, so to speak. "If we would have stayed at the Navy reserve center, our skills wouldn't have been utilized," Kuhn said.
"I'm now tracking down others like me that don't have a (military) job because they are in the same situation I was in," Kuhn said.
Lt. Col. Duard S. Pederson said he was the commander of a linguists unit in the 300th Linguists Brigade in Salt Lake when promotion pushed him out.
Nunn said he found himself without a reserve job when he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He said about 800 enlisted and commissioned reservists who live within commuting distance of Salt Lake City currently are not active in a reserve unit because they were promoted to a rank that didn't have a job available in their unit.
All of the members are given specific training assignments, and all are required to be on a professional development program - taught either by another unit member or by outside instructors - that will lead to rank advancement. A unit goal is to find its members "plum" summer training assignments, which is easier when the members are drilling regularly, Nunn said.
The options are the same for each of the unit's members, but their individual goals are different. "Some are here for promotion, some for retirement," Pederson said. "Some are waiting to get back in a regular unit."
Another advantage is the diversity of experience that couldn't be duplicated from within the ranks of a unit with a single training mission, said Lt. Col. Aron Stanton. "Part of that is real-world experience," Stanton said of training and command deployments to the Pacific. "We're not just sitting here talking about it."