Europe-based troops know all about deploying
HEIDELBERG, Germany - She stays busy. She takes care of two kids and plans for the one due to be born next month. She also works outside the home, providing information and advice to families whose soldiers toil in Iraq with the 18th Engineer Brigade.
Her husband, a sergeant first class, is there now, on his third deployment.
She was a deployed soldier herself. Her brother went to Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division in 2004, came back the next year, went again with the 1st Cavalry Division in 2006 and was killed in action a year ago this month.
“So, yeah, my family knows one or two things about deployment,” said Anna Bruenderman. “I think as a mother and as a wife, I continue going because I don’t have much of a choice.”
Bruenderman seems to exemplify the resilience that U.S. Army Europe officials have lauded, tried to bolster and counted on during five years in Iraq.
Many thousands of U.S. Army Europe soldiers have deployed since 2003, with V Corps Headquarters twice commanding ground operations. Of the nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, 311 were from Europe-based units. Another 2,009 USAREUR soldiers have been wounded in action, according to officials.
“The first (rotation), everybody comes out and waves their flags. It’s real euphoric,” said Russell Hall, director of the Installation Management Command Europe, which is responsible for garrison operations and support. But as rotations continue, he said, the euphoria falls away.
“The community has to start stepping up to the plate,” Hall said. “In doing that, our garrisons and IMCOM have learned to become very agile.”
The war has meant more money for IMCOM, Hall said, enabling more counselors and child care, more library hours, gym time and auto shop workers — all to help support families.
Of some 45,000 Europe-based soldiers, about 14,000 are now in Iraq, said USAREUR Command Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua Savusa.
“Training has matured,” he said. “Soldiers have matured throughout this process in the way they’ve redeployed and how we’ve set up programs for them … Quality of life (in garrison) has gotten better.”
“If there’s any downside, it’s the psychological effect it’s had on soldiers and how much they’ve been exposed to combat operations and separation from family,” Savusa said.
V Corps commander Lt. Gen. Kenneth Hunzeker said the war has forced changes from doctrine to training to procurement, and that the military makes necessary changes at a faster pace.
Asked about a downside, Hunzeker said he agreed with Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, who said the service is “out of balance.”
“I think there has been family and soldier stress throughout the Army,” Hunzeker said. “We’ve become a counterinsurgency focused force, and we need to be more full-spectrum in the future.”
Likewise, the war has taken priority in terms of personnel. Teen medical clinics at high schools, for instance, have been reduced or abandoned because military doctors are deployed.
U.S. Army Europe officials say the war has altered Army transformation plans. One effect was the delay of two brigades scheduled to return to the U.S., kept in Germany to fight in Iraq again.
The war has changed the Air Force as well.
Just six months after completing flight training, Air Force C-130 pilot Capt. Sarah Santoro flew her first combat mission.
Both Santoro and her husband, Capt. Daniel Santoro, who also is a pilot, deployed to Oman on Valentine’s Day in 2003 to ferry troops and supplies before and during the Iraq war.
In the last five years, she has deployed six times. If not for being pregnant with their first son, she would have gone a seventh. Santoro, 30, now a pilot with the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein, said the frequent deployments, and trying to manage duties at home base, can wear on people.
“We can get stretched really thin,” she said. “You just have to find a way to juggle it all.”
About 18,600 airmen from Europe have deployed to Iraq since 2003, according to U.S. Air Forces in Europe. Many have gone to take on Army jobs in an effort to alleviate the workload of the troops on the ground, from explosive ordnance disposal specialists to military truck drivers.
The war also has had an impact on training.
Maj. Gen. James P. Hunt, USAFE director of Air and Space Operations, said one of the biggest challenges of the war is trying to ensure the force is ready to fight tomorrow’s war as well.
“You know, just like a football team, if you’re going up against a running team next week, your defense is kind of focusing on running,” he said. “But they’ve got to keep passing in the back of their brain … They can’t let those skills atrophy.”
For pilots at Spangdahlem Air Base’s 52nd Fighter Wing, one of those perishable skills is air-to-air combat. With no air threat in Iraq, F-16 pilots returning from the region must brush up on their dogfighting.
Capt. Shaun Loomis, 28, an F-16 pilot with the Spangdahlem-based 22nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, said the experience level of the pilot determines how quickly those skills return.
“It’s kind of like riding a bike,” said Loomis, who returned from a deployment in Iraq last month.
During the war, the Air Force set up what it called a Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility for patients. It served as a sort of passenger terminal for the wounded coming from the front lines.
The center recently tallied its 50,000th patient since March 2003. More than 43,000 of those patients came from Iraq, said Paul Langevin, the facility’s commander.