WASHINGTON — Bewildered about why Utah National Guard intelligence specialists in Iraq are serving instead as infantrymen and guards, Utah's members of Congress won promises Wednesday from Pentagon brass to review the situation.
Utah's delegation also warned that Pentagon decisions this week to activate Guard and Reserve members for longer than a year — the maximum they thought was promised — have upset many Utahns and may hurt future recruiting.
"I'm glad that the military decision makers now recognize that these are serious issues for the people of Utah," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said after the delegation met with Assistant Secretary of Defense Craig W. Duehring; Maj. Gen. Fred Robinson, Army director of operations for readiness and mobilization; and Brig. Gen. Guy Swan III, the chief Army congressional liaison.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, added, "We all have concerns that the skills of our Guardsmen are not being used as efficiently as the ideal would be."
The meeting came after members of the Guard's 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion contacted the Utah press and delegation members in recent days complaining about their use in Iraq.
While they are trained mostly as interpreters, they said almost all are used as guards and are sent on dangerous security patrols. Meanwhile, they said linguist work in Iraq is short-staffed. They also said they are being deployed longer than many active service units and said they often lack adequate equipment such as body armor.
Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said the Utahns are generally proud of their service and are not whining but are seriously concerned about their use. He said it doesn't appear to make much sense "that linguists are not being utilized at a time that they desperately need all the linguists they can get."
Bennett said he and the delegation urged the Pentagon to listen to Utah National Guard Adjutant Gen. Brian L. Tarbet. "I told them, 'You need to pay attention to Gen. Tarbet, because he is not a whiner and has been here in D.C. trying to get you to understand how some people are underutilized,' " Bennett said.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, added, "These soldiers have questions about how necessary it is for them to stay on active duty in Iraq when the job there now is not necessarily what they are trained to do."
The delegation also told the Pentagon brass that its announcement earlier this week that it may keep Guard and Reserve units activated in Iraq for a full year has upset many Utah Guard and Reserve members.
"They originally thought that the year of service started the day they walked out the door (from home) and ended when they returned. Now it has changed so that the year began when they were 'boots on the ground' in Iraq," Bennett said.
"So if they spent six months training and another two months in transit, with the year in Iraq that means they may be activated for a year and eight months," he said.
Bennett added, "If we don't deal with that properly, we will have recruitment rates go down." Bishop said, "That could affect the long-term viability of the Guard and its ability to attract and maintain quality individuals."
Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, said, "We must acknowledge their sacrifices by doing what we can to ease their burden."
Matheson said that Duehring told the delegation that the Army is working to return people home when possible but wants to keep them in place as long as they are useful.
Nearly 3,000 Utah National Guard and Army Reserve troops are currently on active duty. "Utah has deployed more Reserve forces per capita than any other state. We do not consider this an unfair burden but a great honor," Hatch said.