|Spc. Steven Cave, Sgt. Kevin Berdan, Spc. Andrew Mclean, Sgt. Waco Randall and Sgt. David Gurule, all from the local unit of the Utah National Guard walk across the desert. The timetable for them and their comrades to return home has been set back, disappointing many of their families who looked forward to their return.|
The phone rang early Saturday morning at the Deano Kontgas house in Price.
"I looked at the caller ID and saw it was my stepson's calling card, and I knew immediately what it was about," commented Kontgas.
It was like many calls that local families of National Guard personnel received over the weekend. It was a somber and disappointing message. The guard unit is not coming home from Iraq in May, but have had their stay in the middle east extended indefinitely.
"It was very upsetting," explained Kontgas referring to the call from Specialist Michael Pierce. "He has two little girls, one of which was born in March of last year and he has only seen her once."
The 1457th Engineering Battalion was called up before the Iraq war began and left in February 2003 for Fort Lewis, Wash. They were there for a couple of months and then were shipped out for Iraq, where they were stationed until just a couple of weeks ago. They had since been moved to Kuwait, where they had already loaded their equipment and were preparing to head back to the United States. When the new orders arrived that they were going to have to go back to Iraq, they were only a few days away from leaving the area.
"I'm so angry at the government about this," said April Durrant, the wife of Sgt. Charles Durrant of Price. "My husband called Saturday and talked with my kids, because I wasn't there. Then he talked to me last night (Sunday). My children are devastated, They're teenagers and need their father more now than when they were younger. We experienced one extension and we said 'Okay, we can do this.' But this doesn't seem right."
Durrant's comments were not that much different than what others in the area were saying on Monday.
"My husband called me and told me that they were going back into Iraq," said Vanessa Anderson, the wife of Sgt. Troy Anderson. "He said the lines to call home were very long. It was 3 a.m. in the morning there when he called me."
Anderson, who is the Family Resource Leader for the National Guard in the Price area said that he also told her that the battalion had already turned over much of it's equipment to the people who were replacing them in Baghdad, a National Guard unit from Virginia.
There were some in the area, however, that didn't know about their loved one's reassignment until they saw it on local television Sunday night.
"I had two mothers who's sons had not called them by the time it aired on television," said Becky Tallerico, who works with families from the National Guard Armory in Price. "That isn't a good way to find out."
Some people were also upset about the television stations jumping the gun on getting the word out, because when they began their coverage they intimated it was a done deal. The reason not everyone had officially heard about the extention was because even on Monday morning the Utah State office of the National Guard had nothing to say in one direction or the other about the decision.
"All I can say is that we have had calls from family members, but nothing official has come down from the federal government at this point," said Major Lorraine Januzelli, who works in public information for the Utah National Guard. But on Wednesday at noon, after a lot of gnashing of teeth by everyone involved a press release came from Januzelli that confirmed the fact.
"I know a lot of families feel blindsided by this," said Tallerico. "They were preparing for a welcome home celebration. Many are frightened and upset about the situation."
Tallerico doesn't only work at the armory but she too has a son with the 1457th, Sgt. Stephen Tallerico.
For most people family issues and the safety of their loved ones are of the upmost importance, but there is also another cost to the community: the loss of important parts of the social structure for another four months.
"My husband has lost two full school years over this," says Durrant of her spouse who is a teacher at San Rafael Junior High in Emery County. "Those kids also need him."
Many of the families that were hoping their loved ones would soon return are hanging on by their fingernails financially, and some companies are struggling with the situation as well. Various firms are continuing to pay wages to employees that have been long gone, others have filled the positions with temporary employees. But the longer the deployment goes on the harder it is for them to get by.
That fact is not lost on the National Guard, however. On Friday, Major General Brian Tarbet will be in town to hold a meeting with all families and employers of guard members who were activated. The meeting will be held at 2 p.m. at the Price armory. Tallerico says that those interested in attending it can contact her Thursday at the armory at 637-1743 if they need more information.