By Diane Aikele
Utahns are wondering what the effect of President Bush”s recent announcement to deploy more than 20,000 additional U.S. forces to Iraq will have on local National Guards.
The answer is that any number of soldiers from the Utah National Guard could be called up this year, regardless if that soldier has recently returned from deployment. Utah”s current army volunteer program has more than 6,500 soldiers and airmen, with only about 7 percent deployment, according to Public Affairs officer Maj. Hank McIntire.
“Currently, about 400 Utah National Guard soldiers are deployed overseas, with about 100 in Iraq, 100 in Afghanistan and 100 in the Philippines,” McIntire said in an e-mail. “More than 4,000 Guard members, some with multiple deployments, have served in Iraq since the war began in 2003.”
There”s an upside to the new deployment announcement, said Sgt. Sean Troutman of the Utah National Guard. The new changes in reserve policy say soldiers cannot serve in Iraq more than 24 months at a time, but could be asked to go out again. The amount of time a soldier could serve in Iraq may soon be limited to 12 months. Previously, if a soldier had served 24 months, he would not be deployed again.
“I am not sure how it will affect recruiters, but I think it will increase retention of current soldiers,” Troutman said. “Most soldiers have a wide variety of opinions, but in the end I think that they support anything that is going to be of their benefit.”
Pfc. Dustin Haggett agrees.
“I think it is good,” Haggett said. “I spent 15 months on active duty, so serving only a year will be nice.”
Utah National Guard recruiting numbers are expected to stay stable, and deployment is presently focused on skilled special forces soldiers, in military intelligence and in aviation, McIntire said.
Bush”s move to increase the number of soldiers in Iraq has sparked many different opinions and changed his approval ratings considerably. In Utah, many believe that more troops could help stabilize Iraq, but most don”t like the idea.
In August 2006, a Salt Lake Tribune poll showed 54 percent of Utahns supported Bush”s Iraq policies. This past week, the results of a similar Tribune poll show only 41 percent of Utahns say they support Bush on Iraq.