WEST JORDAN, Utah — For the past few months, soldiers with the Utah Army National Guard have been preparing for deployment despite hurdles amid a pandemic.
However, unlike other states across the nation, COVID-19 is not the reason for Utah soldiers’ deployment.
Emphasizing the RUMOR CONTROL from @UTNationalGuard: "We have not been tasked to provide any immediate response right now for #COVID19 although we stand ready."@fox13 | @UtahCoronavirus | #Coronavirus pic.twitter.com/nCM8HY0I9C
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"As we all try to react to COVID-19 and be prepared for that, we still have to be trained and ready,” said Lt. Col Jon Richardson, Commander of the 1st Battalion 211th Aviation Regiment, Utah Army National Guard. “As dangerous as this [COVID-19] is and risk the exposures to our families, right now our mission is to still go and support the soldiers who are on the ground as aviation that it is our primary mission."
The 211th Regiment is slated to be deployed in a matter of weeks, hoping to relieve and assist soldiers who have been in the CENTCOM area (Middle East) working extended detail.
“They’re still relying on us and our assets especially with the Apache attack helicopter,” said Lt. Col Richardson who is preparing for his fourth deployment. For those living near the South Valley Regional Airport in West Jordan or along the flight path to Dugway Proving Ground, increased Apache flying can be noticed until the end of the week. “We have to do aerial gunnery, every pilot must qualify on the aircraft in all weapons systems,” said Lt. Col Richardson regarding the training flights.
Some of the biggest challenges over the last few weeks involve the same challenges being faced by others around the world. COVID-19 and the threat of spread has hampered the number of people allowed to gather in a specified space which impacts how trainings are conducted.
“We’ve scaled it down from 400 just to a minimum presence out in the field,” said Lt. Col Richardson regarding the number of soldiers. “Those who can telecommute we’ve had them telecommute, and those who can meet here (West Jordan) on different shifts so we’ve spread it out over time and we’ve stopped all meetings, so really gatherings of larger groups we’ve had to stop that as well,” he said.
The entire battalion, over 300 Utah soldiers will be deployed to Fort Hood and then the Middle East as part of the upcoming deployment.
“All of my soldiers here are your neighbors and the public,” said Lt. Col Richardson. “Never have I deployed with this much concern for what is happening back at home with my family versus my wartime mission, which we feel confident that we’re ready to go.”
As part of the 97th Aviation Troop Command, the 1st Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment conducts operations with Apache Helicopters.