DRAPER — When military soldiers train, they know that one day their training could be used in the realm of actual combat. And while they often long for the opportunity to put their preparation to the test, when that time comes there is a sobering reality for them and the family that supports their goal of serving their country.
For a group of 15 Utah soldiers, the chance has come to put their skills and training to use in the nation's ongoing efforts to battle terror in the Middle East. Soldiers from the Utah Army National Guard’s 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion are set to deploy to Afghanistan with the mission of processing and analyzing information gathered that will help U.S. forces gain a better understanding of the battlefield and to fight enemy insurgents.
The unit was recognized at a departure ceremony Thursday at the Utah National Guard headquarters in Draper. For many like Sgt. Matthew Ellsworth, it will be their first overseas deployment, which brings with it a little anxiety and a lot of anticipation.
"When you join, you know this is an expectation. I've always looked forward to it," he said. " Everything I've trained for has been for this moment. This is kind of my Super Bowl."
He noted that being in a new environment will be different, but he's excited to join the fight against terror. He also said he'll be sad to leave his spouse of a year-and-a-half, Sheryl, and other family members behind.
"In our dating process, I knew this could potentially be part of the package," she explained. "I just didn't think it would actually happen."
She said since the deployment orders arrived, she has experienced a gamut of emotions.
"I've been mad, I've been sad, I've been anxious (and) I've been excited for him because I know that he does all of this training," she said. "It's nice that he's going to do what (he's been preparing for)."
For Sgt. Ellsworth, not knowing exactly what is to come has been a bit unnerving, but finally being able to implement his training is an exciting opportunity, he said.
"The unknown is always scary," he said. "But I'm not afraid at all. I'm confident in the U.S. military personnel, in our abilities and in our training."
Soldiers in the deployment group will soon travel to Fort Hood, Texas, then Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for several weeks of specific training before heading overseas for a planned 12-month deployment in support of Operation Freedom Sentinel, explained Lt. Col. Steven Fairbourn, public affairs officer for the Utah Guard.
Among the group will also be 2nd Lt. Yuliya Helfer, a Ukranian immigrant who became a U.S. citizen four years ago. She expressed excitement regarding the planned deployment but noted that being apart from her husband and two children would be hard.
She added that joining the military was a way to bind her ties to her adopted country after becoming a mother.
"When I had my first boy, I really wanted him (and my family) to be proud of me," she explained. "I wanted to contribute to this great nation that became my nation and to this country that became my home."
"I could not be prouder of her," said her husband Alex Helfer. "The boys are going to miss their mom and I'm going to miss her too, but we know what she's doing is the right thing providing us with the freedoms that we can keep living in this great nation and being secure and safe here at home."
Maj. Gen. Jeff Burton, who serves as adjutant general overseeing the 7,000 airman and soldiers in more than two dozen communities throughout Utah, said the duties and skills of military intelligence soldiers are critical to the mission objectives of the current Afghan operation. The information they collect is used by commanders to make decisions on the battlefield, he said.
"The information they glean will save lives. It literally does every day," he said. "They utilize (the information gathered) to determine what the enemy might do and that's how they save lives."
He said military intelligence information can be the basis for making decisions that can change the course of a conflict — for better or worse. For that reason, he described intelligence as "the most important people out there."6 comments on this story
Noting that a recent suicide bombing killed dozens and injured many others in Afghanistan this week, Burton said this deploying group of Utah soldiers can help prevent such attacks with their skills. In the long run, the goal would be to eventually bring peace to the region one day, he said.
"The fact of the matter is that there is a thin line between chaos and order. Without the American military, the things that are happening there could be happening here," Burton said. "By being strong and by being a presence where we're needed, we make a difference. These people are going to make a difference because of the quality of people they are. We want to be the stability that keeps (chaos) away from our shores."