An item passing around on the Internet purports to be a report of a number of incidents related to the 1457th Engineer Combat Battalion by a member of that unit. We have verified information relating to this item. Parts are true and parts are not. Below is a discussion.
Please read the entire discussion. The conclusion is that while some parts are true, most of the e-mail is a hoax.
Text of a High Priests Group lesson given June 13th, 2004, in the Ensign 1st Ward, Salt Lake Ensign Stake. I take no credit for this lesson. I am thankful that it was delivered to me.--- Phil Summerhays
Caution: If you share this with others, please be careful. Not everyone will understand or appreciate. Our Modern Day Stripling Warriors — Recently I sent several friends an email on the history of our military bugle remembrance, "Taps," and one of them, a friend I will call Pete, emailed me back. His report is so extraordinarily special that Bro. Thomson, our group leader, agreed that I should share it with you as today's lesson on the Melchizedek Priesthood. ----Pete's words can speak for themselves.
My oldest son, Jack, just returned from Iraq. He is a sergeant with the1457th Engineer Battalion. They have a most interesting recent history. They were the first National Guard Combat Engineer Battalion to be called up to fight in Iraq. They are one of only two combat engineer battalions in the nation that are national guard units. The reason they had to go was because the eleven regular army combat engineer units were too badly depleted during the Clinton Administration to be combat ready. Just in case you did not know, there are only five types of fighters who really go and get into a fight with the enemy. Assault Marines, Army Rangers, Navy Seals, Delta Force, and Combat Engineers. Engineers are sometimes called 'sacrifice troops,' since they must engage the enemy with only small arms, ahead of the main battle force. On D-Day, June 6,1944, most of the casualties were combat engineers. Jack and his family were shocked with a message they received when he was first called up. They were told to prepare messages and letters to their family and to plan their funerals, since the majority of them would not be coming back.
The President wrote a letter of apology to them. Combat engineers always go first. Never before in American military history has any assault engineer unit gone into war and not suffered heavy casualties-until now. The 1457th engaged the enemy every step of the way from Kuwait to the liberation of Baghdad. Every one of them came home alive. Prior to every attack, assault engineers were dropped into enemy territory at night by helicopter, or sent in by day on foot, blowing up berms and strategic facilities, taking out sentries or in other ways going hand to hand with an enemy, then radioing that the way was clear for the main force. 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. When a unit went into action, they took with them as many combat engineers as they needed to get the job done. Jack served with the 101st Airborne as they fought through central Iraq and for the liberation of Baghdad itself. It was not a coincidence that a Utah boy found Saddam.
It was also Utah Guardsmen who threw a rope around Saddam's statue and pulled it down with the world watching. The Special Forces in the North who worked and fought with the Kurds were more Utah Guardsmen. The Utah "Rangers" who rescued the first prisoners were there early to do it because they were ahead of the main force. Jack was able to send an email every week or so. Every time, he wrote that he and the other Utah troops seemed to be on TV every night. Their job led them to take on the enemy first, and then to hold while the heavy force came in to clean up. With the cleanup came the media, shooting tape to send home of the soldiers they found there. Nearly every time, the soldiers greeting them were Utah Guardsmen assigned to whatever unit had had that assignment. More than once Jack came out alive, unscathed, from a destroyed Humvee.
He did not tell me this, and was shocked that I knew, but confirmed it. When a squad took casualties, the ones walking away from it always included the combat engineers they had with them. As that oddity continued during the past year, many times soldiers insisted that they wanted a "chaplain" with them when they went on missions. A chaplain? Does that sound confusing? As time went on, everyone noticed that the guys with the castle patch (Engineer patch) were always holding prayer circles or knew how to pray or something else that took religious training. In time many in their units thought the patch represented a church and not a battlement, the engineer symbol. When asked if they were Priests, they said. . "well, . . . I was years ago, I am an Elder now." Uh--explain that one. Our engineers always held Sunday worship for everybody wherever they were.
Our guardsmen cleaned out Saddam's huge residence, because it was the only building available big enough to hold meeting in on Sunday. Week in and week out they held "volunteer type" Sunday meetings. Thousands of U.S. Soldiers wrote home that they liked the way the army held Sunday worship, everybody taking turns giving a talk, praying and leading the singing. Just that only "those fighting chaplains" were ordained to bless and pass the sacrament for everyone. Returning engineers said they never told others that it was a 'Mormon' meeting. Everyone was welcome, and in war, there are no atheists. Sometimes after being prompted to just "say what you're grateful for," a soldier new to praying would repeat in his prayer, "Say What You're Grateful For!"
One soldier praying did not move as his prayer ended. All waited in silence as he remained with his arms folded and head down, eyes still closed. After a while, the man told his comrades, "Sorry, I had to tell God I was sorry I never talked to Him before, and promised I would again." Everyone understood. 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 7AM to 9PM. At one afternoon service, as they were about to say the closing prayer, a voice called out from the side. It was one of the commanding officers. He wanted to thank the chaplain for holding such a wonderful worship service. A regular army chaplain's voice from the middle of the room spoke up, "sorry general, I had nothing to do with this, the guys from Utah do it. I just come and do my part, .like the rest." For music the most popular songs were "Onward Christian Soldiers," "Give Said The Little Stream," and "Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam."
A strange favorite that most managed to learn by the winter of 2003 was "I am a child of God." Interesting how that one got to be so well known in Iraq. Jack's most important message to our family was that he knew more than anything that all men are his brothers. As they fought across Iraq, prior to going in to fight, one could see the desert covered with men in prayer circles, arms wrapped around each other's shoulders. And many times the prayer was not just about protecting them from harm, but to allow them to find a way to let enemy soldiers be able to go home to their loved ones. Only the true spirit would lead men to say such great things.
I sent Pete an email back to tell him how special this was to me, because in the '60's, when I served in the Utah National Guard, my unit was the Group Headquarters of the 115th Engineers, and the 1457th was one of our battalions. Pete emailed me back. It seems that in his work he is a technical services vendor to the Utah National Guard headquarters in Draper, Utah.
He has contact with many of the senior people there. He told me something I didn't know-that much of the intelligence for the war comes out of Draper. The translation and analysis comes out of the linguistics group there. They know what is going on-that's how he found out about the humvee incidents.
Pete wrote that his relationship with the guard leaders in Draper changed when he was asked if he was related to one of the noncoms of the1457th, and he told them that sergeant is his eldest son. After that they followed what Jack was doing, and kept Pete up to date. He told me, "It was as if they needed someone outside the military to talk to about their strange boys. I don't remember how many times I have been alone with a senior officer who would break down in tears and ask, 'what kind of people are we commanding anyway?' They knew all these faith-promoting stories... Oddly enough, they knew so much because it was being reported to them by the Inspector General. The Pentagon had ordered the IG to investigate every small thing about particular groups of soldiers, trying to figure out what was different about them-why they were so special.
The more they reported, the stranger it got." Mid way through the war, Senator Hatch had complained to the Joint Chiefs, asking if they were trying to kill off his Utah guardsmen, and reminded them that we are a small state, too small to have so many people in harm's way and to have so many of the dangerous missions staffed from one small state. The Senator was reacting to parents writing him to complain about only Guardsmen going out to do all the dangerous stuff. Not only that, many of the dangerous patrols were being manned not just by the 1457th, but some of their numbers were Utah linguistic soldiers who were not supposed to fight at all-whose job was supposed to be intelligence.
Well, the shock was that it was all true, but for what are rather strange reasons. As the fighting progressed, the commanders in Qatar were keeping track of who was doing what and with what success. They had no idea that the superior soldiers they kept hearing about were Utah Guardsmen. All they knew was that certain squads were hot.
The Airborne, Marines, and Rangers asked for the best men they could get to carry out important missions. Nobody knew that those squads, spread all over the military, were from the same place. Stranger still, some of the engineers would get orders cut to take 'specialists' with them--nobody questioned who these specialists were. But they turned out to be friends of theirs who were in the other Utah Guard unit-the linguistics boys-translated," returned missionaries.
"One story Pete told me was that when the first attacks were made on Iraqi logistics people back behind the lines, a group of Attack Military Police was sent to take out the Iraqis attacking the highway. For hardened support, they asked for the most experienced fighters from the 101st to assist them. Jack's platoon was chosen, and he hand-picked his men. (Want to guess who he put together? Uh, people he knew and trusted?)
The 101st Airborne received a citation for that one. The 101st sent the same group in to rescue captives later on. The whole world did not know they were all just Utah Guardsmen. Even his 101st Airborne Company Commander did not realize they were not the Special Ops people he thought they were. He assumed that a group like that had to have special training to pull off the things they kept doing--succeed under really tough odds and all come back unhurt. When the Joint Chiefs verified, to their shock, that what Senator Hatch was complaining about was true, but for very strange reasons, the questions became why these guys were so good?
It prompted a full-scale investigation into them, without even their knowledge. Jack told me they had no idea. Now regular army spooks were following them around everywhere they went and reporting every small thing they did, and asking other soldiers about them. The general story coming back was that they were essentially extremely religious guys who had close friends everywhere and all of them were afraid of nothing. They must have some kind of unexplained charmed life. There was no logic at all in the way they came back unharmed over and over again. In time, a whole story unfolded. It began with private prayer circles at camp in which other soldiers wanted to join. In time the prayer circles began to include more and more soldiers, and it spread to prayer circles even in battle. As time went on, the prayer circles were held after lights out in tents all over Iraq.
As you can imagine, these reports coming back were odd indeed. Here were tiger fighters who organized prayer circles every day and worship services every Sunday, then would go out on Monday and fight hard again. It was when they were in Kuwait waiting to go home, reassembled from all their temporary units, that the army saw them in one place for who they are, the 1457th Engineer Battalion from Utah. No longer Special Ops, Marines, Rangers, Attack MPs or Airborne. One Battalion, with no casualties, and made up of a majority of the most individually decorated fighters in the whole campaign. The word was shock. The whole army was in shock. Not one killed? They had been the spearheads of the Third Marines and 101st and Rangers? All those Sunday volunteer chaplains? The prayer circle guys? All those men are the same people? How can that be?????? They wore different uniforms with many different unit patches on their arms when they got together to go home. One patch they all wore--the engineer battlement patch. The patch many thought must be a church. The rest of the army will now have to find chaplains with across or Star of David on his lapel. The church patch boys are going home. Combat engineers are not used to mop up, just to take the fightin[g]. Another interesting story, my last. You may recall from our local news the controversy about them being extended just before they were about to come home? Remember that? And how within two weeks they came home anyway? It all began with Fallujah, a major city in Iraq, becoming belligerent and needing experienced troops to go in and retake it.
Orders went out for an assembly of the best fighting units to go in and clean the insurgents out. On paper, the commanders in Qatar assembled successful units to go do it. One at a time, these orders filtered down--to the men in Kuwait, waiting to go home!!! They were not Marine or Ranger squads anymore, but a bunch of Utah Guardsmen who had served with those units. When the realization hit the commanders in Qatar, the orders were changed. The miracle men would go home after all. Field commanders had interceded en mass, reporting back to headquarters that the men Qatar HQ was calling back to fight again had seen more dangerous action already than anyone else in the theater. But the messages coming back were as odd as the whole situation. Commanders who didn't even know each other made similar comments. "Send them home. Tell them we can fight and pray on our own now!" Jack was humbly surprised when I recounted what the people in Draper were telling me. "We all agreed we would keep all that to ourselves," he told me. Then he continued. "You see, Dad, it wasn't just that the president sent us there, at least not the national kind. The Lord sent us to Iraq to start something for Him. Not since the days of Abraham has there been any significant Melchizedek Priesthood presence in Babylon. We talked about it a lot among ourselves. We all knew that the Lord was doing something special, and decided we would keep our mouths shut and get on with it." Jack shook his head in amazement when I told him about the military having all of them studied. There were unexplainable things happening-at least unexplainable in ordinary terms.
No wonder the administrative regular army officers in Draper wanted to know, "What kind of people are these?" But how does one answer without putting it in spiritual terms? Any attempt to respond in any other way only meets with oddity and confusion, and now confusion is the state of the army in trying to understand what they observed. A few, who were in tune, got the message. But along with the 1457th itself, even they cannot tell the world what they saw..... Who would believe them!? Yesterday my friend Dave, who sent me the pictures, called me. He had just returned home from the priesthood session of a regional conference in Utah Valley. The general authorities at the conference were President Faust and Elder Maxwell. President Faust told them that five senior generals had recently met with the Brethren, thanking them for the fine young men from Utah who had served in Iraq, and wanting to know more about them.
I wonder if the Brethren read them the Book of Mormon account of the stripling warriors??? Now, what do we take from away from this?
For me, 1. First, I think, greater appreciation for our blessings. 2. Greater understanding of the words, "The Lord works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform." 3. A hope that the "Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God" has begun to work in the Land of Islam. It is my hope that we will all be greatly impressed by and committed to the marvelous things that the Lord is working to do in the world today; that we, each of us, will take to our hearts and minds this realization, and put our faith, prayers, actions, and the Holy Priesthood that we bear, more fully behind Him in His work. (June 13, 2004)
We have not been able to verify this follow-up e-mail, which arrived a few days later, but the e-mail that follows it, from the LDS Church's Military Relations Department, tells the tale.
Dear Brother and all others who may read this,
I recently received a copy of the following e-mail that recounts some of the activities of the 1457th Engineer Combat Battalion during Operation Iraqi Freedom. While I do appreciate the obvious desire to recognize the wondrous power of our Heavenly Father in protecting our soldiers as well as the worthwhile work that the 1457th performed in Iraq, I feel that I need to comment on the significant amount of inaccuracy that it contains.
By way of introduction, my name is James Montoya. I am the Chaplain for the 1457th. I was with them in Iraq. First, I wish to state that I am certain that the author(s) had no intention of deceiving anyone by sharing our story. Second, I am very quick to recognize the hand of Heavenly Father in all the good that occurred to our unit in Iraq. It was miraculous that we had no serious combat injuries or fatalities, considering our missions and the many dangers in and around Baghdad. Third, I can see some accuracy in the stories but there is so much that is misleading that it can’t be called the truth. Fourth, I don’t have time to clarify every point. I have included a few comments below.
The explanation of Combat Engineers and their distinguished history is true. However, the 1457th did not participate in war as was portrayed in this e-mail. We were delayed in Fort Lewis, Washington until late April because the 4th ID was delayed from going into Iraq through Turkey. We watched the news with the rest of the nation as the major combat operations happened——yes, it was frustrating not to participate in the ground war as we had been mobilized to do. We arrived in Iraq after major operations had ceased.
Most of the time we were not separated into other units as is mentioned. We did have platoons or squads go with a unit for 2 to 8 weeks to assist them in their various missions. But for the most part, we were all together.
Many did hear about us. We were on the BBC, CNN, Fox news, ABC, CBS, and NBC. We were written about or had our pictures in the Washington Post, Time Magazine, and many other newspapers and magazines, both at the international and local levels. Most didn’t mention our unit by name, they only said the Army or the Army National Guard was doing something.
It is true that Utah guardsmen were working with many units in central and northern Iraq. Between the military intelligence soldiers and the engineers we worked with a lot of people. But to infer that we were doing most of the work or were involved with most of the great things that happened is untrue. We were a small part who excelled in our responsibilities, but there were also many others doing the work. We did have a few individuals we detained and we did have a few firefights with the enemy, but we didn’t free prisoners or engage in large battles. There are other things mentioned that are similar in that they are true but they are embellished to a point that I almost don’t recognize the story. I lack the time to clarify the stories.
We did pray and our group leaders did hold services for LDS soldiers and any visitors wherever they went. But for the most part it was LDS soldiers who attended. Groups of soldiers did not flock to our LDS soldiers to pray with them, but some of our 1457th soldiers of other faiths did pray with our members. At the same time there were many instances of others seeing our soldiers and being impressed by their examples of faithfulness and their miraculous protection. We did hold regular sacrament meetings at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. We were willing and did on occasion hold spot services as requested. Also, the military intelligence did hold sacrament meeting in a palace for a while, but our unit had sacrament meeting in a large maintenance tent.
Regarding the Army making special inquiries about our unit, I haven’t heard anything on that. From my biased opinion I would say that the soldiers of the Utah National Guard did exceptional work and were the most capable group of soldiers in Iraq. Many would grudgingly agree with me but I am certain there wasn’t a special inquiry made about the 1457th, at least not regarding the items mentioned.
Many of the stories have a truthful base but the facts are so far from what transpired as to make the whole story unrelateable as the truth. The facts do show a miracle of protection and tell a wonderful story of dedication and greatness by our soldiers; they are just not as extravagant. I would appreciate it if you could send my response to anyone who received the original text——especially to the individual who gave it to you.
To all that receive this, I send my profound thanks for your prayers and support while we were deployed. I witness that your prayers were answered and that we were protected and strengthened by the power of our Lord. Please continue your prayers for our brothers and sisters still in harm’s way. God bless you and God bless America!
James A. Montoya Battalion Chaplain 1457th Engineer Combat Chaplain
Follow-up from the Church's Military Relations Dept.:
Attached is the real story regarding the 1457th Engineering Battalion. The original article is misleading and doesn't recognize the wonderful contributions of many brave men and women in other units plus much of the information is not factual.
Regarding the question about the meeting of 5 military Generals with President Faust. The meeting involved the Commanding General from the 96th Regional Readiness Command at Fort Douglas and other general officers (two were retired) who presented a plaque recognizing the outstanding support for the Army Reserves from the Church and its members. There was no specific discussion regarding the 1457th Engineering Battalion. The Reserves Officers Association was holding their National Convention in Salt Lake City and they wanted to make this presentation to the Brethren in recognition of the long-standing support for the military by the Church and its members. It was a warm gesture of appreciation. It is my understanding that they made similar presentations to the Governor and others.
Let me know if I can be of further assistance.
Attachment to the above e-mail:
On the 24th of November, 2004, we received an email from a reader who knows the commander of the 1457th, Lieutenant Colonel Jefferson S. Burton. The e-mail seems to be the clearest refutation to date of this hoax (for a MS Word version, click here). We have contacted Commander Burton to verify the e-mail and he replied with the same information, but also included a link to their military web site. Below is Commander Burton's response:
to the email “Modern Day Stripling Warriors” attached below:
It has recently come to my attention that an email describing the service of the 1457th Engineer Combat Battalion as “Modern Day Stripling Warriors” in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom has been mass mailed to many people of faith via the internet.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Lieutenant Colonel Jefferson S. Burton. I am the Battalion Commander of the 1457th, and spent a 15 month deployment leading the great soldiers of this unit. The “article” listed below [see original e-mail above] is a fabrication. To date, my efforts to find the author have produced negative results.
I will refute the lies told in
this fabrication point by point:
I am proud of the actual
performance of the soldiers of the 1457th in the field.
These are the facts. The 1457th did a remarkable job in Iraq, just like thousands of other units fighting in the war on terror. Our service was not particularly unique, but it was honest and dedicated. Our reputation with those that know of us is a positive one. We gave our best to every mission. The fiction expressed in the article below simply serves to cheapen the dedicated service of honest Soldiers, and Marines everywhere.
JEFFERSON S. BURTON
Office phone: (801) 523-4517