Fictional E-mail Does Disservice to meritorious deployment

Written by Maj. Lorraine Januzelli  - Published - Nov. 10, 2004

   

Soldiers from the 1457th emplace a triple standard obstacle on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport.

Photo by Spc. Kelly Collett

Soldiers from the 1457th emplace a triple standard obstacle on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport.

An e-mail fictionalizing the1457th Engineer Battalion's deployment to Iraq has been circulating across the nation in recent months.  While embellishments are endemic to war stories, the e-mail-in-question far exceeds the limits of acceptable exaggeration.  Its content is primarily fantasy.  It tells an astonishing story about combat engineers who single-handedly won the war in Iraq, captured Saddam Hussein, and taught the Army how to pray.  Although seemingly harmless, the widely disseminated story undermines the genuine accomplishments of the Soldiers who honorably but humbly fought to preserve our freedom and liberty.

 

The e-mail originated in Utah, but traveled fast across the country popping up as far east as New York, and perhaps beyond.   Since its first appearance in the spring of this year, thousands of unsuspecting internet-users may have read its erroneous content. 

 

The leadership of the 1457th has diligently worked to diffuse distribution of the e-mail and set the record straight, but it continues to flourish via the internet.  This article officially refutes a tale spun out of control and clarifies the experiences of a unit that needs no overstatement.

 

The e-mail contains a few scant facts.  The 1457th is part of the Utah National Guard.  The Soldiers are indeed "combat" engineers with a distinguished heritage.  They verifiably deployed to Iraq for a year and returned home in May 2004.  And every single 1457th Soldier came home in one piece.  Beyond this, truth and the e-mail part company. 

A Soldier from the 1457th rests his head as he returns from working on missions in the Baghdad area.

Photo by Spc. Kelly Collett

A Soldier from the 1457th rests his head as he returns from working on missions in the Baghdad area.

The narrative below juxtaposes erroneous excerpts from the e-mail with the real story of the 1457th Engineer Battalion and their experiences in Iraq.

 

Myth 1:  "Engineers are sometimes called 'sacrifice troops' since they must engage the Army with only small arms, ahead of the main battle force." 

 

Truth: Combat engineers are called "Sappers," a nickname they earned in medieval Europe for destroying rival fortifications.  In modern-day battle, they fight alongside the infantry and armor, going forward to clear any obstacles blocking the way.  When they go, they are well-armed and well-protected by their fellow combat arms Soldiers.  They can reasonably be called the first cousins of the infantry.

 

Myth 2: The 1457th engaged the enemy every step of the way from Kuwait to the Liberation of Baghdad.”

 

Truth:  The battalion traveled to Baghdad in late May; three weeks after Pres. Bush declared that major combat operations were over.

 

Myth 3: "Nobody ever heard of the 1457th because they didn't fight as a unit.  Once deployed, they were divided up among other units.  They became 3rd Marines, 7th Marines, Rangers, Special Forces, 101st Airborne, Big Red One, and others."

Lt. Col. Jefferson Burton is the Battalion Commander of the 1457th Engineers.

Photo Courtesy of Utah National Guard

Lt. Col. Jefferson Burton is the Battalion Commander of the 1457th Engineers.

Truth:  The 1457th deployed to Iraq together as a complete battalion.  They were assigned to the 1st Armor Division, the infamous Old Ironsides, and operated nearly exclusively in the Baghdad region.  The Baghdad International Airport served as their base camp.  The unit slept and ate together as a battalion but typically performed missions as platoons.  

 

A few times, individuals with specialized skills, such as electricians, engineers, or construction planners, were selected for missions away from the unit.  Capt. Mike Turley flew with a team of such specialists to Baghdad ahead of the battalion to set-up the 1st Armor Division headquarters.  Capt. Mel Anderson and Sgt. Scott Neil worked separately from the unit to manage the construction of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps facilities.  No matter what the assignment, though, the 1457th worked for the 1st Armor Division for all their time in Iraq.   The only place they joined the Marines was in the chow hall.

 

Myth 4:  It was not a coincidence that a Utah boy found Saddam.

 

Truth:  The Utahns involved in Saddam's take-down were not from the 1457th.  However, the battalions' missions were of equal importance. Some were high-profile such as rescue operations at U.N. building bomb site.  Others were routine, like constructing building security barriers, but no less essential to the lives those barriers saved. 

 

1457th Soldiers level Hesco Barriers that were placed as fortifications in the Green Zone.

Photo by Spc. Kelly Collett

1457th Soldiers level Hesco Barriers that were placed as fortifications in the Green Zone.

Their missions varied tremendously.  The 1457th traveled into the heart of Baghdad and built security barriers for Iraq’s newly minted and oft-targeted police force.  They cleared and mapped a series of interconnected tunnels and bunker complexes beneath the Baghdad Airport.  They constructed a rifle range so coalition forces could continue to train while deployed.  Typically, the battalion worked numerous missions concurrently, responding to each with meticulous planning and execution.  It was not long before the 1457th was dubbed the “911 battalion.”

           

            The 1st Armor Division’s Engineer Brigade Commander, Col. Don Young supervised the battalion while in Iraq and had first-hand knowledge of their accomplishments.  He formally recognized the battalions’ meritorious performance in a memorandum to Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, the Utah National Guard Adjutant General.          

           

            In the memo, he states, “They quickly became my “Go To” unit.  I assigned my toughest high-visibility missions to this battalion knowing that they would always succeed in a timely and efficient manner.”   (A copy of the memo can be obtained from the Utah National Guard Public Affairs Office.)

           

            Myth 5:  "A big smile comes from the fact that on the first Sunday that meetings were held in Saddam's palace, standing-room-only meetings were held every hour on the hour, from 7:00 AM to  9:00 PM.”

 

Truth:  Many faiths are represented in the 1457th.  In the immediate battalion area, LDS group leaders held at two services a day on Sundays.  Protestant and Catholic services were held nearby with neighboring units. Most services were well-attended and lasted an hour or so.  1457th Soldiers only went inside Saddam's Palaces as tourists.

 

1457th Commander, Lt. Col. Jeff Burton, is especially frustrated by the content and tenaciousness of the referenced e-mail, but he believes he understands the motivation behind its enduring popularity.

A soldier of the 1457th pulling guard duty.

Photo by Spc. Kelly Collett

A soldier of the 1457th pulling guard duty.

 

"People want to believe in heroes," said Burton.  "They pine for good news.  And they are anesthetized by Hollywood about the true, more humble nature of heroism.  The e-mail tells a story they want to hear.  So they forward it along without reflecting on how it takes away from the actual performance of 1457th during their year in Iraq."

 

“The Soldiers of the 1457th did a remarkable job in Iraq, just like thousands of other units fighting in the war on terror,” Burton continued.  “Our service was not particularly unique, but it was honest and dedicated.  Our reputation with those that know us is a positive one.  We gave our best to every mission.  Sadly, the lies and sanctimony expressed in the fictional e-mail cheapens the dedicated service of honest service members everywhere.”

 

            Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Soldiers – from the 1457th or elsewhere – don’t need a fictional exaggeration to validate their service.  They raised their right-hand to serve our country and protect our ideals.  At the end of day, that is enough.  They are all our heroes.

 

Members of the 1457th conducted M.O.U.T training exercises in Ft. Lewis, Washington while preparing to deploy.

Photo by Utah National Guard

Members of the 1457th conducted M.O.U.T training exercises in Ft. Lewis, Washington while preparing to deploy.