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Guard in Iraq for full year

Year started when boots hit ground — in Iraq, not Utah

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The other boot has hit the ground, so to speak.

After weeks of concern that they may be stuck in Iraq longer than they had originally believed, members of Utah National Guard units and their families learned their fears are coming true. Guard units deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom will remain in theater for one year.

"What this means for Utah's citizen soldiers is that even though they were activated in December or January of last year, the time they spent prior to deploying to the Middle East does not count toward the one-year 'boots on the ground,' " said Lt. Col. Brad Blackner, Guard spokesman.

The same goes for Reserve units, he indicated.

An exception could occur if the commander involved decides that the unit is no longer needed in the area.

Guard soldiers who were briefed prior to deployment were told they could be extended for up to two years, Blackner said, but they had hopes to return home early.

He cited a statement from an Army official that the difference between one year of activation and one year in the country by using the term "boots on the ground."

In this case, the term apparently means on the ground of the Middle East.

"This is not good news for our soldiers in Iraq or the families here at home," Blackner said. "We were hoping for news that our units are no longer needed and that we could bring them home. Unfortunately, that isn't the case."

In a statement faxed to the Deseret Morning News, Blackner said it's obvious that Utah soldiers are critical to the success of the mission. He added that Guard officials are confident they will perform as they always have, "and that's at the highest standards."

The Guard will continue to support the troops and their families until they can be returned home safely, he added.

Blackner also sent along a letter from Capt. Tyler C. Craner of the Guard's 141st Military Intelligence Unit, serving in Baghdad. Craner's mother had asked him how he feels about what is happening in Iraq, and then passed his response along to Blackner.

"If we hadn't acted, can you imagine the continued repression and promotion of terrorism?" Craner wrote.

"Of course we should have come. The people of Iraq needed us. We have defeated a big center of gravity of anti-U.S. terrorism. We have secured Iraq's oil supply and stabilized a region.

"Now Iraq can sell its oil for the benefit of their people. We have cut off funding and weapons (including chemical) agents around the world. We have brought freedom and opportunities for the Iraqi people."

Craner added that the American action ended the evil atrocities of Saddam Hussein and his sons.

"We have turned the tables on the bad guys," Craner wrote. "I am glad to sacrifice for others and proud to have done so, even for the ungrateful."

The United States sent a message to bullies around the world, Craner added, "and the world is a better place for it."

E-MAIL: bau@desnews.com