Off to Camp Bucca, Iraq:

The 1-145th Says Farewell

 

By Maj. Hank McIntire

Published October 13, 2007

 

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The 1-145th Field Artillery in battalion formation surrounded on three sides by their families, friends, and supporters June 12.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

The 1-145th Field Artillery in battalion formation surrounded

on three sides by their families, friends, and supporters June 12.

SALT LAKE CITY — ‘There is strength in numbers,’ as the saying goes, and that was certainly the case June 12 as more than 400 Soldiers of First Battalion, 145th Field Artillery, and their families and friends came together for a heroes’ send-off at the Utah Air National Guard Base.

No one who gathered in the large hangar for the departure ceremony will forget the sight of the entire battalion arrayed in formation, facing their leaders in front and surrounded by supporters who were literally ‘behind them,’ as well as to their left and their right.

These Soldiers—ultimately bound for Camp Bucca, a detention facility in Southern Iraq—are headed to Fort Bliss, Texas, for several weeks of mission-specific training as military police officers who will guard the camp and keep order among hundreds of captured enemy combatants.

Soldiers of the 1-145th await their turn to board the aircraft to Fort Bliss, Texas, at the Utah Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

Soldiers of the 1-145th await their turn to board the aircraft to

Fort Bliss, Texas, at the Utah Air National Guard Base in Salt Lake City.

This type of duty is not new to the 1-145th; they have functioned as one of two battalions in the State who are trained to assist local authorities in response to civil disturbances. The 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City saw them at the ready to be called to that challenging duty in the tense months following 9/11.

Among these Soldiers is a sizeable number of combat veterans who have already served in Iraq or Afghanistan and can provide perspective and stability for those deploying for the first time.

That’s how Pfc. Brittan Jenkins, of Alpha Battery, 1-145th, sees it. The Ogden resident served on the Gulf Coast in the fall of 2005 when the battalion provided security there after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but this is his first tour overseas.

 

Staff Sgt. Baltazar Chicas, of Layton, center, and his family speak to a  Univision reporter before the first leg of his journey to Camp Bucca, Iraq.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

Staff Sgt. Baltazar Chicas, of Layton, center, and his family speak to a

 Univision reporter before the first leg of his journey to Camp Bucca, Iraq.

“Recently a lot of the guys from the 148th came back [from Iraq] and became a part of Alpha Battery,” Jenkins said. “It’s just a whole different experience for them in the Guard because they already know the sacrifices to be made. And I don’t want to sit back here and not make the same sacrifices. My section leader has been there before and every chance I get I ask him questions even about the smallest things because I know that small things will help me in the long run.”

Soldiers of the 1-145th are experienced in other ways too. First Sgt. Dale Sellers, Bravo Battery, in Manti, was among many in the 1-145th to deploy in 2003 to protect the U.S. Army’s chemical stockpile at Dugway Proving Ground, Tooele Army Depot, Deseret Chemical and other key locations. He knows what it’s like to miss important events like birthdays, baptisms and holidays.

“I’ve been 20 years training for a day like this, and there are a lot of things where someone is going to have to take my place and do it for me,” he said.

One of those stand-ins for Sellers is his wife Celeste. She will be working as a Family Readiness Group volunteer and knows what is in store for her and her children.

Lt. Col. Karl Wright, left, commander of the 1-145th, receives a salute from Command Sgt. Maj. James Liechty, during the departure ceremony.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

Lt. Col. Karl Wright, left, commander of the 1-145th, receives a salute

from Command Sgt. Maj. James Liechty, during the departure ceremony.

“Deployment makes you more of what you were,” she said. “If you were having problems and just glossing them over, they come out and have to be dealt with. If you have an already-solid marriage, it just gets stronger.”

“I watched my oldest son step up to the plate and become a man when [his dad] was deployed the first time,” Celeste added. “The children really have an opportunity to mature while their dad is gone. You really build and grow or you wimp out. It’s a mental choice. I just choose not to wimp out.”

Before Soldiers boarded the three charter aircraft for Fort Bliss, the unit held a special ceremony to honor their service which included speeches by their leaders and a prayer offered by Chaplain (Maj.) Clay Anstead, who will be accompanying them on their deployment.

“It’s our privilege and blessing to serve our country, which we love so dearly,” said Anstead in his invocation. “We first give thanks for our families and all they mean to us, for our faiths. . . and for the freedoms we enjoy.”

Many families of the 1-145th brought signs like this one to show their support of their Soldier as they depart for Iraq.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

Many families of the 1-145th brought signs like this one to

show their support of their Soldier as they depart for Iraq.

“[We’re] thankful for values we’ve been given from parents, drill sergeants, officers and NCOs,” continued Anstead. “Bless us to use that training to perform our mission well and come home safely. Bless those left behind at home. May they be supported and uplifted in all their challenges—which will be many—and may they feel our love and support from afar.”

Soldiers then heard from the commander of I Corps Artillery, Col. Michael Liechty; former I Corps Commander, Maj. Gen. Patrick Wilson; and the adjutant general of the Utah National Guard, Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet.

“The commitment and responsibility that comes with wearing this uniform is an expression of everyone’s willingness to serve—whatever that service may require,” said Liechty. “When you combine a qualified and trained artillery officer with a qualified and trained Artillery NCO, not only can they put steel on time and on target, but they can accomplish any mission given to them." 

One of three charter aircraft waiting to take 1-145th Soldiers to Fort Bliss, Texas, for several weeks of specialized training before heading to Iraq.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

One of three charter aircraft waiting to take 1-145th Soldiers to Fort Bliss, Texas, for several weeks of specialized training before heading to Iraq.

Wilson used many superlatives to describe departing Soldiers and the mission they will fulfill.

“You are that lighthouse that represents hope to a people a long ways away,” he said. “There aren’t enough adjectives to describe you. You are the best of the best. What an awesome sight to stand beside you as you answer the call.”

“You are a hero for your willingness to serve and put on that uniform,” Wilson continued. “This is a family business; they are serving right alongside of you. And we here at home will do our part: Sending E-mails and pictures, and spending time on bended knee.”

“You have been my go-to unit for a long time,” said Tarbet, describing their service in the Olympics and guarding Dugway. “I’m so proud of you, but as proud of you as I am, I’m more proud of these families. The true heroes sit at your side.”

“‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here am I, Lord; send me,’” he added, quoting Isaiah in the Old Testament. “You have answered that question.”

A platoon sergeant of the 1-145th, center, carries with him a touch of home as he prepares his troops to board the aircraft.

Photo by Ileen Kennedy

A platoon sergeant of the 1-145th, center, carries with him a

touch of home as he prepares his troops to board the aircraft.

Lt. Col. Karl Wright, commander of the1-145th, summarized what it took to get his Soldiers ready for this day, which included marksmanship, small-arms and artillery training, live fire and basic infantry tasks.

“As artillerymen we are infantrymen first, but we’re able to do both well,” he said. “We are the first-responder battalion for the state for disasters, so I’m confident that we’ll be fine.”

Wright said that morale is high due to the great noncommissioned officer corps, and he is confident that his Soldiers can cross-train into this new assignment.

“It’s a sacrifice, but it’s something I feel duty-bound to do,” said Wright, capturing the sentiments of many of his Soldiers. “This country of ours has given me and my family an awful lot, and this is a chance to give something back.”

 

Soldiers of the 1-145th Field Artillery line up to shake hands with Utah National Guard leaders as they board the aircraft at the Utah Air National Guard Base June 12.

Photo by Tech Sgt. Michael Evans

Soldiers of the 1-145th Field Artillery line up to shake hands with Utah National Guard

leaders as they board the aircraft at the Utah Air National Guard Base June 12.