MYTH: The 1457th Engineer Combat Battalion are modern day Strippling Warriors.
This email story has been passed around the internet since the beginning of 2004. It tells the extraordinary tale of the 1457 Engineer Combat Battalion. According to the email, the 1457th, out of Draper Utah, were the first National Guard Combat Engineer Battalion to be called up to fight in Iraq.
According to the email’s author, one of the members of the battalion, these combat engineers captured Saddam Hussein, commandeered Hussein’s palace for church meetings where they taught the soldiers how to pray, were involved in most of the special ops missions – often only lightly armed, and more or less were single handedly responsible for winning the war. And let’s not forget, not a single soldier from this battalion died.
That would be a pretty impressive list of military accomplishments – if it were true. But alas, while some parts are true, the bulk of the story is fantasy.
There have been several official refutations of this story. Lieutenant Colonel Jefferson S. Burton served as Battalion Commander of the 1457th. In response to the faith promoting email he said the following:
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 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:
- We were NOT “sacrifice troops”
- The President DID NOT send us letters of apology as asserted
- SGT Jack DOES NOT EXIST anywhere, but in the mind of the author
- The 1457th DID NOT “engage the enemy from Kuwait to Baghdad”
- We DID fight as a unit, and were NOT “divided up among other units”
- We DID NOT serve with the “3rd Marines, 7th Marines, Rangers, Special Forces, or 101st Airborne”
- We DID NOT engage in “hand to hand combat with the enemy”
- We DID NOT “find Saddam Hussein” (That was the 4th Infantry Division)
- We DID NOT “rescue the first prisoners”
- We DID NOT “fight ahead of the main force”
- We were NOT considered “Chaplains” by other soldiers
- We held church services in a TENT, NOT in “Saddam’s Palace”
- We had few, if any “visitors” at our Sunday church services
- NO “General Officers” attended our church services
- We held NO “prayer Circles”
- “Pete”, the so called technical services vendor for the Utah Guard, EXISTS ONLY in the mind of the author
- Senator Hatch DID NOT complain to the Joint Chiefs asking them “if they were trying to kill his Utah Guardsmen”
- We are NOT responsible for the combat operations performed by any other units!
- We were NOT the “spearheads for the 3rd Marines, or the 101st Airborne”
- We DID NOT “teach the Army how to pray”, because they already knew!
I am proud of the actual performance of the soldiers of the 1457th in the field.
The 1457th Engineer Combat Battalion DID receive the Meritorious Unit Commendation for their outstanding performance in a combat zone
For their performance in Baghdad, C Company of the 1457th DID receive the Itchner Award in recognition as the finest Engineer Company in the entire National Guard for 2003
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. BURTONLieutenant Colonel, Engineer1457th Engineer Combat BattalionCommanding
Office phone: (801) 523-4517email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The officially website of the Utah National Guard also attempted to set the record straight. A news article entitled “Fictional E-mail Does Disservice to meritorious deployment” set the record straight:
Fictional E-mail Does Disservice to meritorious deployment
Written by Maj. Lorraine Januzelli - Published - Nov. 10, 2004
An e-mail fictionalizing the1457th Engineer Battalion's deployment to Iraq has been circulating across the nation in recent months. While embellishments are endemic to war stories, the e-mail-in-question far exceeds the limits of acceptable exaggeration. Its content is primarily fantasy. It tells an astonishing story about combat engineers who single-handedly won the war in Iraq, captured Saddam Hussein, and taught the Army how to pray. Although seemingly harmless, the widely disseminated story undermines the genuine accomplishments of the Soldiers who honorably but humbly fought to preserve our freedom and liberty.
The e-mail originated in Utah, but traveled fast across the country popping up as far east as New York, and perhaps beyond. Since its first appearance in the spring of this year, thousands of unsuspecting internet-users may have read its erroneous content.
The leadership of the 1457th has diligently worked to diffuse distribution of the e-mail and set the record straight, but it continues to flourish via the internet. This article officially refutes a tale spun out of control and clarifies the experiences of a unit that needs no overstatement.
The e-mail contains a few scant facts. The 1457th is part of the Utah National Guard. The Soldiers are indeed "combat" engineers with a distinguished heritage. They verifiably deployed to Iraq for a year and returned home in May 2004. And every single 1457th Soldier came home in one piece. Beyond this, truth and the e-mail part company.
The narrative below juxtaposes erroneous excerpts from the e-mail with the real story of the 1457th Engineer Battalion and their experiences in Iraq.
Myth 1: "Engineers are sometimes called 'sacrifice troops' since they must engage the Army with only small arms, ahead of the main battle force."
Truth: Combat engineers are called "Sappers," a nickname they earned in medieval Europe for destroying rival fortifications. In modern-day battle, they fight alongside the infantry and armor, going forward to clear any obstacles blocking the way. When they go, they are well-armed and well-protected by their fellow combat arms Soldiers. They can reasonably be called the first cousins of the infantry.
Myth 2: The 1457th engaged the enemy every step of the way from Kuwait to the Liberation of Baghdad.”
Truth: The battalion traveled to Baghdad in late May; three weeks after Pres. Bush declared that major combat operations were over.
Myth 3: "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."
Truth: The 1457th deployed to Iraq together as a complete battalion. They were assigned to the 1st Armor Division, the infamous Old Ironsides, and operated nearly exclusively in the Baghdad region. The Baghdad International Airport served as their base camp. The unit slept and ate together as a battalion but typically performed missions as platoons.
A few times, individuals with specialized skills, such as electricians, engineers, or construction planners, were selected for missions away from the unit. Capt. Mike Turley flew with a team of such specialists to Baghdad ahead of the battalion to set-up the 1st Armor Division headquarters. Capt. Mel Anderson and Sgt. Scott Neil worked separately from the unit to manage the construction of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps facilities. No matter what the assignment, though, the 1457th worked for the 1st Armor Division for all their time in Iraq. The only place they joined the Marines was in the chow hall.
Myth 4: It was not a coincidence that a Utah boy found Saddam.
Truth: The Utahns involved in Saddam's take-down were not from the 1457th. However, the battalions' missions were of equal importance. Some were high-profile such as rescue operations at U.N. building bomb site. Others were routine, like constructing building security barriers, but no less essential to the lives those barriers saved.
Their missions varied tremendously. The 1457th traveled into the heart of Baghdad and built security barriers for Iraq’s newly minted and oft-targeted police force. They cleared and mapped a series of interconnected tunnels and bunker complexes beneath the Baghdad Airport. They constructed a rifle range so coalition forces could continue to train while deployed. Typically, the battalion worked numerous missions concurrently, responding to each with meticulous planning and execution. It was not long before the 1457th was dubbed the “911 battalion.”
The 1st Armor Division’s Engineer Brigade Commander, Lt. Col. Don Young supervised the battalion while in Iraq and had first-hand knowledge of their accomplishments. He formally recognized the battalions’ meritorious performance in a memorandum to Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, the Utah National Guard Adjutant General.
In the memo, he states, “They quickly became my “Go To” unit. I assigned my toughest high-visibility missions to this battalion knowing that they would always succeed in a timely and efficient manner.” (A copy of the memo can be obtained from the Utah National Guard Public Affairs Office.)
Myth 5: "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 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM.”
Truth: Many faiths are represented in the 1457th. In the immediate battalion area, LDS group leaders held at two services a day on Sundays. Protestant and Catholic services were held nearby with neighboring units. Most services were well-attended and lasted an hour or so. 1457th Soldiers only went inside Saddam's Palaces as tourists.
1457th Commander, Lt. Col. Jeff Burton, is especially frustrated by the content and tenaciousness of the referenced e-mail, but he believes he understands the motivation behind its enduring popularity.
"People want to believe in heroes," said Burton. "They pine for good news. And they are anesthetized by Hollywood about the true, more humble nature of heroism. The e-mail tells a story they want to hear. So they forward it along without reflecting on how it takes away from the actual performance of 1457th during their year in Iraq."
“The Soldiers of the 1457th did a remarkable job in Iraq, just like thousands of other units fighting in the war on terror,” Burton continued. “Our service was not particularly unique, but it was honest and dedicated. Our reputation with those that know us is a positive one. We gave our best to every mission. Sadly, the lies and sanctimony expressed in the fictional e-mail cheapens the dedicated service of honest service members everywhere.”
Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Soldiers – from the 1457th or elsewhere – don’t need a fictional exaggeration to validate their service. They raised their right-hand to serve our country and protect our ideals. At the end of day, that is enough. They are all our heroes.
The original email is below:
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)
 “Fictional E-mail Does Disservice to meritorious deployment”. Maj. Lorraine Januzelli, Published November 10, 2004. http://www.ut.ngb.army.mil/html/pao/news/10nov04.htm. Retrieved September 15, 2009.