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Guard Members Complain of Long Deployment

Guard Members Complain of Long Deployment

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Some Utah Army National Guard soldiers serving in Iraq have complained to Salt Lake newspapers about their extended deployment while their special skills are not being used.

The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret Morning News published separate copyright stories on Monday about the complaints.

"Since I have been in Iraq, I have spent the majority of my days reading books, playing video games and watching movies because there is nothing for a Spanish linguist to do," one soldier said in an e-mail to the Tribune. "I don't see how they can justify extending our orders when for the last seven months we've done absolutely nothing."

The News said it learned of discontent from an officer of the 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion who spoke by telephone from Iraq and from the spouse of another soldier deployed to Iraq.

The officer, who asked that his name not be used, said, "They're feeling ... angry, frustrated."

Lt. Col. Brad Blackner, spokesman for the Guard in Utah, said, "I think the kids are a bit disillusioned because they're trained in military intelligence" yet now are required to carry out guard and security duty.

Of the linguists sent to the Middle East, only about three work in jobs that are within their military specialty, the unidentified officer told the News. About 21 others have duties related to military intelligence though not part of their formal specialties.

"And then you have another 88 or 90, around there, who are doing nothing related to MI (military intelligence) work at all," he said. "What really, really gets me is the fact that we have MI positions open here."

The 142nd members were trained for interrogation and translation. But they are standing guard, manning traffic checkpoints, going on patrol or working with the battalion staff.

"I could deal with extensions and I could deal with a lot of hardships, but what I can't deal with and what I can't accept is . . . National Guard linguists are being used as security infantry-type soldiers," and going into areas where guerrillas operate against coalition forces, the unnamed officer said.

More than 50 Utah soldiers were supposed to have completed their military stints or earned retirement status when their orders were frozen in January. They remain in Iraq.

The Pentagon has extended six-month orders to at least a year, with no definite demobilization date. With the expected yearlong active duty, the Utah soldiers will have served the longest deployment of any Utah National Guard unit since the Korean War.

For months, distressed families have been pleading for a release date. E-mails from a dozen Guard members and interviews with family members underscored a high level of frustration with continued deployment with few or no duties or in jobs below their levels of training for a long period of time, the Tribune said.

The Utah congressional delegation has requested a meeting next week with Army officials to convey the frustrations and seek a firm date when the National Guard and reserve members will leave Iraq.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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