Homecoming for 419th Likely Delayed

Homecoming for 419th Likely Delayed

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Families of the 175 Utah Army Reservists in the 419th Transportation Company have been told to expect the soldiers will be in Iraq another 120 days.

Maj. Gen. James P. Collins, commander of the Salt Lake City-based 96th Regional Readiness Command, met with the families on Sunday.

The company had been preparing to return home a week ago when the Pentagon ordered tours of duty extended for about 20,000 soldiers.

Members of the Utah National Guard's 1457th Engineer Battalion, based in American Fork, also had been ordered to stay in Iraq an extra 120 days, but that order was later reversed, allowing the estimated 400 Guard members to return home next month.

About 2,000 Utah Guard members and Reservists are serving in the Persian Gulf region.

Collins assured families that equipment the 419th soldiers had turned in has been retrieved, including body armor and armor kits for trucks the soldiers will be driving to deliver fuel throughout Iraq.

"The 419th is one of our best units," Collins said. "They were awarded the Armywide Deployment of Excellence (award). When the Combatant Commander was faced with the need to extend units in country, it is only logical that he would select the 419th."

Remarks from the 419th commander, Maj. Timothy L. Lewis, were relayed to families gathered at the Salt Lake City reserve center during a meeting closed to the public.

"We may not agree with the decisions that impact our lives but we must stay focused on mission accomplishment both at home and in the theater of war," said Lewis, a financial consultant in civilian life. "We have to worry about the things that we can have a positive impact on."

Lewis' wife Michelle said the troop extension "is beyond difficult. As a commander's wife I'm trying very hard to stay strong."

Hall Martinez said he is proud that his son will do his duty, "but if he comes home in a flag draped coffin after serving this long, I'll be angry."

"It's like the Army doesn't know what we're going through," said Nancy Tibbits of American Fork. During her husband's absence, their baby son was hospitalized for breathing difficulties, she underwent surgery and was hospitalized a second time with complications. While she was in the hospital, other wives helped Tibbits care for her three sons and daughter.

"Some of us don't have families in Utah," said Kathleen Santoro. "We have to help each other. We're all we've got."

Stacia Sheffer of Tooele said her husband paid $200 to send his belongings home before his unit received the troop stop movement order. Sheffer said she and several other wives now will have to pay to ship their husbands' belongings back to them.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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