1st Cavalry headed to Iraq a month early
1st AD spouses disappointed but supportive after news of extension
Stars and Stripes
The Defense Department is speeding up the deployment of a stateside unit to Iraq by a month to maintain U.S. troop levels through spring, officials said.
The 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, out of Fort Bliss, Texas, will now go to Iraq in late October rather than November, a Defense Department news release says.
In July, the Defense Department announced that the 4th BCT would be one of the units slated to deploy to Iraq as part of the next rotation.
The move, along with the 46-day extension of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division will keep U.S. troop strength at 15 brigades through the spring, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.
The extension will allow the 1st BCT, 1st AD’s replacement unit the time to complete their full 12 months to re-equip and retrain, Whitman said on Tuesday.
For the families of the 1st BCT, 1st AD back in Germany, a football analogy seemed appropriate, given that life in today’s Army can sometimes spin and bounce in a most unusual manner.
“Basically,” said Maj. Tony Perry, the rear detachment commander in Friedberg, Germany, “we are keeping our game face on.”
Perry understood Tuesday why there were more long faces than a couple of days earlier, before word came down that the unit would have its tour in Iraq extended for about six weeks.
“Our job is to salute and execute [on behalf of] our downrange component,” Perry said. Spouses of deployed soldiers “understand there is a mission downrange and they support that.”
And several spouses interviewed Tuesday said as much, though it still didn’t lessen the discomfort many felt over news that yet another extension had befallen the brigade.
“I hate it,” said Barbara Collins, whose husband is deployed. “I hate the extension.” But, she added, “I’m here to support them, not matter what they do. It’s their job.”
In 2004, the brigade and other 1st AD units had their tours extended from 12 to 15 months to help address the growing insurgency in Iraq. During that first extension, Gen. B.B. Bell, then the commander of U.S. Army Europe, and his staff won over many disheartened spouses by going to extraordinary lengths to accommodate their needs.
“That’s why we (the rear detachment) are here — to take care of the family,” Perry said.
Word of the extension first reached Friedberg over the weekend, but it remained a closely held secret until Monday, when spouses were alerted of the delay in the unit’s redeployment. Soldiers were originally scheduled to return around mid-January.
“I handled the news a lot better than I would have expected from myself,” said Callie Villasenor, wife of Capt. Jonathan Villasenor. “I think we all pretty much knew there might be an extension.”
The Army has scheduled a town hall meeting in Friedberg for Wednesday morning to discuss the issue. Most of the estimated 3,900 soldiers affected by the extension are based in Friedberg and Giessen, though Perry said it will also affect other communities, such as Wiesbaden and Baumholder.
As communities in Germany adjusted to the news, personnel at several stateside Army bases were doing the same.
The moves are all indicative of the fluidity of the war in Iraq.
“One thing that is positive is that we found out early,” said Villasenor, whose husband was affected by the 2004 extension. “My husband has been there before.”
Patti-Sue Nakazono is the wife of Army Chaplain (Capt.) Masaki Nakazono, who is having his tour extended, too. She said the issue dominated part of her Bible study group Tuesday morning.
“It’s hard,” Nakazono said of the development. “I wanted to be like this all day.”
At that, Nakazono lowered her chin and set her gaze downward. Then she lifted her head up and smiled, even managing to crack a joke.
My two sons “need their dad,” she said. “I’ve got one in pre-puberty.”
Collins and Villasenor displayed grace and humor, too. But like Nakazono, they also spoke of what all was at risk.
Almost on cue, Hope Marchi stepped into the conversation.
Her husband, Sgt. Conan Marchi, was seriously injured this past May on, of all days, their wedding anniversary. A sniper nearly took her husband away from her. Today, after several operations, Marchi is on the mend.
“I can’t complain,” Hope Marchi said, “because my husband is home. It’s not fair [of me to grumble]. I can relate, but I’m not there.”