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WEST JORDAN — On, off, wait, and now hurry-up deployment orders affecting about 400 Utah National Guard soldiers have them scrambling to catch up with the Pentagon's latest scheduling jolt.
The men and women in the 1-211 Attack Recon Battalion will be at the Guard's aviation post in force this weekend, doing administrative tasks in advance of their most recent scheduled deployment to Afghanistan — in mid-January.
But the Guard is helping its soldiers on their way, knowing full well the latest deployment orders constitute the second procedural whiplash the group has experienced since late August.
These guys are trained. They're ready to go. They've already been through a lot of the requirements they've had to meet so far.
–Maj. Bruce Roberts
Members of the battalion had been training for as long as a year for a deployment to Iraq. They were supposed to ship out two months ago, but learned just weeks before that the deployment had been cancelled. Instead, the battalion was told it would be going to Afghanistan, but not for a year.
"We had people that quit their jobs, they sold cars, they sold their houses or got out of lease agreements, then were told, 'We're not going any more,'" Capt. Taylor Scott said of the sudden deployment cancellation in August. About 100 of the battalion members are college students who scrambled to get into classes after enrollment deadlines and now will be withdrawing from school again.
"Our commander told them their main priority, as a student, is to take your finals in December," Scott said.
Word started circulating in the battalion last week that the timeline had been moved from "a year from now" to mid-January. Speculation is that the battalion's readiness status from its training for the scrubbed mission made it impossible for the Pentagon to pass the unit by when filling a need for troops in Afghanistan.
The latest plan is for the battalion and 30-plus Apache attack helicopters and crews to go to Ft. Hood, Texas, for up to four months of training there before shipping out to Afghanistan to round out a year away from home.
The advanced training location is particularly poignant for Pfc. Adrian Brewer, a helicopter mechanic. Brewer said Monday he joined the National Guard because of brother-in-law Aaron Nemelka, one of the soldiers killed at Ft. Hood when Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan went on a shooting spree that killed 13 people and wounded 29 others in November 2009.
"It's a situation I'll have to get over, but I know my battle buddies and all the people in my unit will help me get through that," he said of the three to four months the battalion will be at Ft. Hood before making the overseas hop to Afghanistan.
We don't do good with audibles.
–Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet
In the shorter term, Brewer said his employer, an ex-Marine, is supportive of the hastened deployment, and he's working to make preparations at home for his wife, Ashley, who is the slain soldier's sister, and their 4-year-old daughter. They're also expecting another baby in December.
His family had "let all those emotions go" when the first deployment was cancelled. "And now that it's coming up, it seems like it's hitting twice as hard. It's not easy to get through that, but we will get through that as a family."
Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, Utah's adjutant general, said in August he had a message for the Pentagon: Do what you will when scheduling active-duty military forces, because military service is their full-time job. But when a deployment is scheduled for the National Guard, don't mess with the schedule afterward because it wreaks havoc with school plans and civilian employment.
"We don't do good with audibles," he said.
Despite the hardships, Scott said the soldiers know the bottom line is that they belong to the U.S. Army, and they have to adjust. "We've just got to salute and move on."