European edition, Saturday, July 21, 2007

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — A special waiver that the Army must obtain if it wants to send a unit of 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division soldiers back to Iraq just nine months after its last deployment still has not been submitted to the Pentagon for approval, a Defense Department spokesman confirmed this week.

For Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry to deploy with the rest of the brigade in November, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates must give the go ahead. The reason: the scheduled November deployment cuts short by three months the unit’s 12-month period of home rest, or dwell time. Such a move would be at odds with Gates’ policy that units receive 12 months at their home stations for every 15 months deployed.

When asked Wednesday morning whether U.S. Army Europe has submitted the necessary paperwork for the waiver, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman initially referred that matter to USAREUR. When pressed, Whitman acknowledged that nothing has been received.

“There’s no waiver here. What can I say?” Whitman stated during a briefing with reporters.

Without a waiver from Gates, Company A cannot deploy, according to Pentagon policy.

U.S. Army Europe has declined to say whether it intends to file the waiver required to deploy Company A. USAREUR contends such communications are not to be made public.

With USAREUR remaining tight-lipped about its intentions, confusion about Company A’s fate abounds.

Soldiers who occupy the unit’s barracks at the U.S. Army Garrison, Baumholder, have said repeatedly that as far as they know, the plan is for the company to deploy with the rest of the brigade in November. For a portion of the roughly 150-member unit, that will mean three consecutive Christmases away from home.

In a prepared statement issued Thursday, USAREUR stated: “We understand the situation the soldiers and family members are in. At this point, there is nothing to add to what has already been released. We will certainly keep the soldiers and family members informed of any new developments.”

Soon after the Pentagon announced May 8 that the 2nd BCT out of Baumholder was among the roughly 35,000 troops who would be deploying in November, questions emerged about whether Company A should be included. Unlike their 2nd BCT counterparts who returned from Iraq in November, Company A remained downrange until February.

The plan for a November deployment followed a change in Pentagon policy, which was issued on April 11 and announced that tours would be extended to 15 months. One of the rationales behind the extension was to ensure units received 12 months of dwell time.

Earlier this week, the Army’s top soldier visited various combat outposts in Iraq to assure troops that the rotation schedule would be honored.

“Gates announced active-duty units deployed to the CENTCOM area would not be deployed longer than 15 months and those units will have a minimum of 12 months’ dwell time back at home station,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston was quoted as saying in an Army news release.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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