13 July 2014

Utah Pioneers in Afghanistan Never Quit

Few holiday celebrations can match the Days of '47 in fervor. Statewide in Utah are parades, cook outs, rodeos, demolition derbies, races, carnivals, and fireworks.

Those celebrations will extend to Afghanistan this year. Our little band of Utah National Guardsmen will host a bona fide, authentic, Beehive State barbecue ten and a half hours before anything in the Mountian Time Zone. 

They'll even order up some July-in-Utah weather, just for tradition's sake. Forecast is around 110 degrees. 

Many of these Soldiers will reflect on Utah's pioneer heritage while they live out their own kind of pioneer experience in southern Afghanistan. 

Our unit is based in Draper, a growing suburb of Salt Lake with its own unique pioneer roots. We left Utah in March for mobilization training on the East Coast. By early May, we were in Kandahar.

Many of our Soldiers are fourth- and fifth-generation Utahns, whose ancestors settled the state when it was known as "Deseret." 

But they each represent their own pioneer spirit. Deployments can be tough. One Soldier, on her first, said that she draws strength from thinking about pioneers. 

"When I'm going through a hard time, I realize that it doesn't compare to the suffereing that [Utah] pioneers experienced; they traveled through really rough conditions, but they kept going."

Persistance and a hope for a better future drove the earlier Utahns just as it pushes us to do our best to get the mission done here in OEF. 

Another Soldier, who served multiple tours in Iraq, compared some of the conditions that he had to operate in to the trials of Mormon pioneers who helped settle the West. 

"Growing up in Utah, we are taught about how they were persecuted, driven across the plains, and settled in a not-so-hospitable place. But they made it happen. It was similar for us in Iraq, in the sense that we lived in austere condidtions and had to do hard things. But we just did it."

From the days of 1847, when wagon trains full of religious refugees began spilling into the arid Salt Lake Valley, through the nineteenth century when life in the Western U.S. was rough and often wild, success required a certain pluck-- a refusal to accept defeat.

American Soldiers display that same moxy today, and none more so than those in Afghanistan who come from Utah, steeped in Pioneer culture and motivated by love of country. 

"The spirit of being a pioneer is having to do something that people haven't done before, and figuring out how to do it," our most experienced combat veteran said.  

One Soldier with our detachment was married just weeks before deploying. Another negotiated a hectic family move to another state. Two Soldiers put doctoral studies on hold for a tour of indefinite duration. Several left civilian careers on pause. 

The Utah Pioneer Ethos is alive and well in this corner of the world, 167 years after it became the stuff of legend in the great state we all call home. 

So fire up the grill. Just because we're 7500 miles away doesn't mean we can't keep up with the celebrations.  

(Bottom photo courtesy Visit Salt Lake)

1 comment:

  1. Happy Pioneer Day! It's been years since I've been in Utah to celebrate the days of '47 Parade, so I'll join you in a remote celebration.