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SPECIAL FORCES IN UTAH MAKE PENTAGON HIT LIST

Sgt. Jerry E. Donaldson says he isn't ready to roll up the colors of the Utah National Guard's Special Forces Group - at least, not yet.

Three companies of the group from Camp Williams, Layton and Provo, plus the headquarters battalion based at Camp Williams, are on the "hit list" of Guard and Reserve units that the Pentagon wants to scrap. The list was distributed in a briefing Thursday in Washington, D.C.In Utah, 334 reservists are affected in three units. The four Utah National Guard units listed have a total of 304 members. The Reserve units are being phased out because of changes in the nation's military structure and the Guard units are not needed because of a reduced global threat.

But as every officer, politician and service member interviewed pointed out, it isn't final until Congress acts.

Donaldson, a Salt Lake resident and a member of the Guard for almost 28 years, is a parachute rigger with the Special Forces' support company.

That company issues all equipment for the Guard's Special Forces operations. Although that company is not specifically on the list issued by the Pentagon, the rest of the companies are.

"Basically that would do away with probably the whole battalion," he told the Deseret News. "It would be like chopping off all a spider's legs, so to speak."

Donaldson says nobody is ready to sleeve the colors, just yet. "We've still got a job. We're still hanging in there.

"I love what I do and I'm going to continue doing it until I'm told not to do it anymore," he said.

He defended the role of the National Guard, saying it belongs in every state.

"It's my living and my love. I've made some great friends and seen some great things accomplished by the National Guard."

Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said he intends to fight what he considers to be excessive cuts. Garn is on the appropriations committee that oversees military spending.

"The impact to Utah is significant. If Congress approves these reductions, the state stands to lose $12.5 million in National Guard funding and more than 638 jobs," he said.

"The debate between the administration and Congress on the needfor guard forces vs. active duty forces, is shaping up to be the biggest battle during deliberations on the defense budget this year.

"Today's announcement on guard reductions is in no way the final word. But let me add, those individuals in Congress continually vote to gut the defense budget should not be surprised when reductions are proposed in their states," he said.

Garn said he opposes the proposal to eliminate most of the Special Operations Forces units in Utah. He would rather maintain the current number of units, but reduce the number of people within those units.

He said he discussed that proposal with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and the commander of the Army's Special Operations Forces, and intends to try to reverse the decision announced Thursday.

Garn also said, while the headquarters of the reserve petroleum unit will be eliminated, Utah will still have four small operational petroleum units that will report to a new headquarters.

Maj. Gen. John Matthews, the state's adjutant general, said the state knew some time ago that the particular cuts would be proposed in the National Guard.

"As you are aware, there are significant cuts occurring in the armed forces . . . as a result of changes in the international scene," he said.

"While the cuts that were announced Thursday affecting the Army National Guard of Utah are the Department of Defense's recommendations, all of the recommendations will have to go through the legislative process in the Congress prior to implementation."

Because of that, Matthews said, "it may be premature for us to react to specific cuts at the present time."

Lt. Col. Claude McKinney, public information officer for the 96th Army Reserve Command, based at the Douglas Reserve Center (formerly Fort Douglas), said the Army Reserves feels badly about losing the three units announced Thursday.

"We would hope that we would be able to take the people who are in those units and find homes for them in other reserve units in our area," he said.

The projection is that the units will go off the book at the end of fiscal 1994. That gives time to make changes.

"The 650th Personnel Service Company is a type of company that in the overall plan of restructuring the military, these companies are no longer going to be needed." It processes people going into and out of division headquarters.

The 536th Signal Company lays wire for communications. "With the modern equipment where we're going to electronics, the Army does not have the requirement to lay the hard wire."

The 259th Quartermasters Company is a command and control company. "With the reduction in the sizes of headquarters, we don't need all of the headquarters control units."

The recommendations will not be in force until Congress acts on them, he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Donaldson said, people in his unit are unhappy about the developments.

One indication that Special Forces might have been in trouble is that while it is a rarity in the National Guard, a combat unit, it wasn't called up for active duty during the gulf war.

"We were really surprised when we didn't get called up for the Saudi thing," he said.

In addition, "we've done a lot of community efforts, a lot of Sub for Santa, a lot of food gathering for the homeless over the years. And it's not just at the holiday season."

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(Additional information)

Here are Utah units being phased out. The number of people in each units is in parentheses.

National Guard Units

Co A 1st Bn Special Forces Group, Layton

Co B 1st Bn Special Forces Group, Provo

Co D 1st Bn Special Forces Group, Camp Williams

HQ Det 1st Bn Special Forces Group, Camp Williams

Army Reserve Units

HQ Co 259th Petroleum Unit, Pleasant Grove

HQ Co 536th Signal Ops, Salt Lake City (138)

650th Personnel Services Company, Ogden (120)