One of the Utah Army National Guard's largest troop deployments is scheduled for a week from today when about 300 members of the 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion Utah for a 12-month deployment to Afghanistan.
The brigade is comprised primarily of linguists who work as interrogators. This will be the second or third war-zone deployment for about 60 percent of the departing troops.
Following Utah National Guard practice, the soldiers do not use their first names when talking to reporters. Beyond that, some prefer not to give their names at all, especially in light of the kind of work they do.
That practice takes a more official role once they get to Afghanistan when the distinctive tearing sound of Velcro marks the removal of all identifying markings on their uniforms. Interrogators take on pseudonyms Joe, Sam, common first names that are used in front of detainees they interrogate, and with other soldiers.
"You don't want to slip up in front of a detainee," said a chief warrant officer, whose interest in serving and protecting his country is equally matched with his interest in protecting the family he leaves behind in Utah. With a less-than-common last name, he believes an enemy who saw his real name and knew generally where he is from would need only a few minutes on Google to zero in on his home and family.
This deployment will be the second for Lt. Col. Tolman, the battalion commander, who has previous service in Iraq in 2003-04 when the 142nd gained notoriety in Washington, D.C., where Utah's congressional delegation complained the highly trained linguists were serving as infantrymen and pulling guard duty.
"The war is much more predictable in the planning and deployment aspects from the initial onset of the war," Tolman said. "This is probably the best military intelligence operation the battalion has ever had."
Once in Afghanistan his soldiers will be placed, in small teams with other ground forces, typically from the 101st Airborne, Tolman said.
Brigade chaplain Maj. Montoya said a number of soldiers have civilian humanitarian-service experience overseas, mostly as LDS Church missionaries, and have approached him with humanitarian aid ideas. The chaplain is compliling a list of those ideas and will be exploring the logistics of carrying them out once the group is in Afghanistan.
The chaplain is also working with soldiers as they put together their "battle mind" the Army's current term for preparing the soldiers' physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual components into a battle-ready soldier. He is aware of statistics released last week revealing that among military personnel, National Guard troops experience a higher suicide rate. Tracking those statistics is relatively new but is good for soldiers because it allows them to categorize suicide among the list of threats they train to overcome.
A sergeant deploying for the first time is among those keenly aware that the world is watching the way the U.S. military treats detainees. Brigade members don't talk in detail about interrogation methods," but if we screw up, everybody knows it."
"Time after time after time, it's drilled into us that we abide by the Geneva Convention," the chief warrant officer said. "Checks and balances interrogators are constantly monitored."
All of the soldiers who talked to the Deseret Morning News this week agreed the most important message they want to leave at home is the importance of the role their families play.
"They have a tremendous opportunity to participate in the global war on terror. Our families have to do so much by themselves," said a brigade public affairs officer.
"The military takes care of us," said Capt. Anderson. "Our wives are on their own. In our eyes, our wives, our children, make the biggest sacrifice."
One element that has made the upcoming deployment run smoother at home is the extensive lead time the brigade has had six months. "In 2001, on my first deployment, I had five days notice," the captain said. "On the second, I had three weeks. Now, six months. You can't beat six-months notice."Brigade members spent the past week at Camp Williams undergoing general training and will spend about two months at Ft. Lewis, near Tacoma, Wash., where more specialized training will help prepare them for duty in Afghanistan.