Several hundred heard Major General Pat Wilson of Utah's National Guard offer remarks at the funeral of Richfield's Mark Fullenbach, a former commander of the locally-manned 222nd Field Artillery Battalion. As a civilian, Fullenbach also published the Richfield Reaper, a weekly newspaper covering central Utah. Attenders included many of Utah's National Guard and Highway Patrol, to which Fullenbach lent his support and leadership.
In addition to Wilson, Fullenbach's son Shawn, also a National Guard officer, offered some personal comments about the lifelong resident of Sevier County, who died in Price, Utah on Wednesday of an apparent heart attack. Mark Fullenbach was 59. (see obituary posted prior)
All three men had served in the same unit throughout the years and had trained prior to deployment in overseas missions, the latest in Afghanistan forward operating bases near the Pakistan border. During Wilson's remarks, numerous anecdotes of a friendship spanning decades were offered to the congregation assembled in the historic Richfield tabernacle of the Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter-Day Saints. Wilson is the chief financial officer of the Sevier School District when he is not working for the state's National Guard. The following story was a report from a Richfield Chamber of Commerce meeting where Wilson explained the duties being performed by local guardsmen in a typical deployment.
Brigadier General Briefs the Community
originally written on October 21, 2006
by Michael Orton
(by way of Afghanistan)
He apologized and said he couldn't read the entire recent e-mails from his men in Afghanistan because his wife was seated next to him, and he didn't want to scare her.
Brig. Gen. Pat Wilson offered a briefing last week about the service of the Utah National Guardsmen under his command, and specifically those who live in Sevier County or in Central Utah. He began by showing images from their deployment in support of Katrina Relief in the gulf states, in ravaged New Orleans. They were the first help that some families received. When asked if those mobilized knew how long they would be gone from their homes, families and workplaces when they were ordered to leave, Gen. Wilson responded, "No... they seldom do."
He then went on to offer non-classified information about the "Forward Operating Bases" where his personnel support the mission in Afghanistan, at several locations but principally in the east, near the Pakistani border.
"Some of the ANA (Afghan National Army) regulars would give their lives for my soldiers," said Wilson. He also indicated that there are plenty of cultural difficulties which make devoted service to the Afghan's national army more challenging.
"You have to understand that Afghanistan is a country that has been traditionally governed by warlords. This means that the strongest guy in the region calls all the shots. We enter that situation in an attempt to change that scenario so that a fledgling democracy can have a chance."
Does it have a chance?
"Yes," says Wilson, "I think so, but that won't happen overnight. One of the most crucial things they need is an economy. Economic development is not a reality there." In a region of the world where the greatest export is opium which may contribute as much as 80% of the Afghan economy, there is little promise of a revitalzed GNP. Hence the warlords and tough guys as shot-callers. In a vacuum, they return and rule once again.
"Do you know that ALL of the cooking done in Afghanistan is done on wooden fires? And do you know that for all of the time I was there, I didn't see one tree." Wilson mentioned that all of the firewood is brought in from the mountains of Pakistan, often many miles away.
Other challenges in getting a fledgling democracy to defend itself?
"For instance, if they have a bad day, they go home and don't return for sometimes weeks." Wilson continued, "One of my soldiers reports that recently, when the ANA members learned that the Afghan Police had received new uniforms, the ANA regulars left to become policemen so that they could have the new uniforms."
There are other problems. A returning, soldier (not from the Utah National Guard, but a resident of Utah) had this perspective under condition of anonimity: "It's time for us to get out of Afghansitan."
When pressed as to why this serviceman felt that way, he continued, "For example, on my tour, we [the USA] spent more than a million dollars to build a schoolhouse for women and young girls. A noble and praiseworthy gesture. Computers, furniture, everything to our own standards. The villagers were pleased. The women and young girls attended school for the first time in their lives."
"Then the Taliban got involved. A few weeks later, the husbands and fathers of the women and young girls attending our school were found dead, bodies left on the outskirts of town, women and young girls left as widows and orphans. Guess what? The next week, no one came to use the brand new school."
This serviceman noted that in the weeks that followed, the Taliban looted and ransacked the million dollar facility which now stands in ruin, empty.
A guest at General Wilson's briefing asked if any of the fighters working with our National Guard had experience with the famed "mujahadin," the fiercest fighters of the Soviet invasion years ago. "Not too many," was Wilson's reply. "Perhaps some in the south and along the Pakistan border." He acknowledged that this could be a generational distinction, that the Soviets have been gone from that region for more than ten years.
At Brig. Gen Wilson's luncheon briefing, the resolution was palpable. At the end of his remarks, this big, tough warrior became noticably moved when describing the kind of men under his command, those from central Utah where, for that moment, his eyes were welling up.
"It was my distinct privilege to take some fathers to meet their sons at 'the crossing.'" The civilians in the room were largely uninformed about this term. "It means when a generation is coming home, and another is leaving to replace them in their service." Wilson said that at an air base in Mississippi, he witnessed fathers as the first to greet their sons as the sons set foot on American soil for the first time since deploying to Afghanistan. Then, with hugs replaced by salutes, the fathers boarded the planes to begin their own tours in a country in need of an economy, a half a world away.