BAGHDAD, Iraq — 3rd Infantry Division troops thought they were heading home soon after the 1st Armored Division arrived this week to relieve them.

On Thursday evening, they learned that their stay in Iraq has been extended — news that hit hard among combat veterans now tasked to continue patrols on Baghdad streets.

Lt. Col. Ernest “Rock” Marcone, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment, briefed his soldiers to quell circulating rumors that had surfaced earlier this week.

“We received a warning order that said we will be here for an unspecified period of time to continue missions in Baghdad with the 1st Armored Division,” Marcone said. Marcone could not specify just how long his troops would stay.

“They may not like it. Even I don’t like it,” Marcone said. “But we’re soldiers and understand our duty.”

Over the past few weeks, the battle-weary soldiers policed the same streets they fought for in early April. By all accounts, they slugged their way through seven fierce battles with the enemy, to include the three-day advance on the Iraqi capital that began April 2.

“We were in the lead,” Marcone said. “This battalion has seen as much, or more, combat as any unit out here.”

After punching through the Karbala Gap, the battalion moved toward “Objective Peach,” about 18 miles southwest of Baghdad. Engineers and infantry crossed the Euphrates River in rubber boats under vicious fire, securing a vital bridgehead, Marcone said. That night, they held off assaults by the Iraqi 10th Medina Brigade and paramilitary units, fighting intense tank battles.

The next afternoon, April 3, the battalion was ordered to advance to Saddam International Airport. Again, they fought all night.

The battalion lost Sgt. 1st Class Wilburt Davis and embedded reporter Michael Kelly during the airport battle, Marcone said.

The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade will remain in Baghdad, Marcone said.

The division’s two other maneuver brigades are expected to support troubled cities such as Fallujah, west of Baghdad, and Tikrit, to the north. The extra troops will help the 1st Armored Division gain their bearings, Marcone said.

While the political powers adjust the military stance in Iraq, soldiers assigned to duty in the war-torn country find themselves facing the fact that they are not going home as soon as they were previously told.

“When 1st AD came in, we thought we were leaving,” said Sgt. Larry Wisor, 26, of Buffalo, N.Y. “Now, morale is at an all-time low.”

The Old Ironsides troops occupying the Iraqi Martyrs’ Monument with 3rd ID troops cautiously approach the warfighters, hoping to learn more about Baghdad.

They meet in long lines for morale calls home.

“They are being humble and just telling us about their experiences,” said Sgt. Charles Zalenty, 25, a 1st AD soldier from Phoenix. “They did their job and earned their right to go home.”

Meanwhile, military spouses were getting excited about the soldiers’ return, but no homecoming was yet planned, said Jennifer Burnett, whose husband 2nd Lt. Spence Burnett, is staying in Baghdad.

Her husband also asked her to spread the word to other wives who have been told to stop sending mail because the troops were heading home.

“We’ve been preparing for something like this. It’s going to be tough,” Jennifer Burnett said. “We all just want to hear a date.”

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