AMERICAN FORK — When soldiers from the 1457th engineer battalion were dispatched to the Middle East, many left behind families struggling financially without a steady income.

"A lot of the soldiers take a cut in pay when they leave their civilian jobs and go on military leave," said Annette Barnes, family assistance coordinator at the Utah National Guard. "A lot of the families really are in need."

With Utah deploying the highest percentage of soldiers in the nation, the Utah National Guard and local governments are trying to help out in any way possible.

Cities such as Lindon and American Fork that own utilities companies voted to waive all utility bills for soldiers, saving families up to $50 per month.

The Utah National Guard's Family Assistance Center offers food — boxes and boxes of it — for military families in Utah County.

It's an overwhelming task. The 1457th engineer battalion has 440 soldiers in Kuwait and Iraq, leaving families with many mouths to feed.

"We've got lots of families," Barnes said. The Utah National Guard Family Assistance Center receives shipments of food from Hill Air Force Base and distributes it to military families in the area.

When rumors of war first hit in January, Hill Air Force Base prepared for the worst by organizing food drives to feed the families of their many pilots. But when the pilots returned earlier than expected, the base was left with a surplus of food.

Base officials offered the food to the Utah National Guard to pass out to military families. Last month, 80 families came to the American Fork Armory and filled up boxes of food to take home.

The first shipment was such a success that the National Guard will keep the shipments coming on a monthly basis, Barnes said, "either until Hill Field tells us to leave them alone or until our guys come back."

Military families can come to the American Fork Armory on June 21 to receive assistance. Stephen Ames, a 15-year old Scout from Orem, was on hand Wednesday to help unload the truck and will be available on June 21 to help families carry the boxes to their cars.

"I think the military really needed help," said Ames, who is helping out the Utah National Guard for his Eagle Scout project.

Ames dreams of joining the Marine Corps one day, where he can fight alongside the people he is helping out today.

"He loves the military, ever since he was a little boy," said his mother, Evelyn Ames. "This was the best one (project) that fit the requirements of an Eagle Scout project and would be useful to the military families."


E-mail: ldethman@desnews.com