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Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling on Wednesday outlined some of his goals for the 1st Armored Division’s upcoming deployment to Iraq and weighed in on a big decision families must make in the weeks ahead: Should dependents stay put in Germany for the 15-month tour or return to the States?

“We’re asking soldiers to think hard about this and make an informed decision,” Hertling said, responding to a question from a sergeant seeking guidance on what advice to give his soldiers.

Hertling, 1st AD commander, fielded phone calls and responded to e-mail inquiries during a two-hour open-line American Forces Network radio program designed to update families on the status of the deployment. Much of the conversation centered on family readiness matters and where spouses should call home.

There are pros and cons to both choices, Hertling told radio listeners. However, “It’s often better to stay with the Army family,” he said.

Remaining in Germany means closer contact with Army support services and better access to information about what is happening with the soldiers in Iraq, Hertling said.

“It’s tough to be amongst a group of civilians who don’t understand what the individual is going through when their soldier is deployed,” he said.

Hertling pointed to Baumholder to highlight some recent issues that have emerged in connection with dependents returning early to the States. Some Baumholder families chose to depart for home in anticipation of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division’s planned November deployment to Iraq. However, when that deployment was postponed two weeks ago to early 2008, some dependents wanted a return trip to Germany, Hertling said.

The Army only pays for one-way trips home.

“You were counseled. You made the decision. You know, the Army can’t keep shipping household goods and cars back and forth,” Hertling said.

In addition to family readiness matters, Hertling touched on some of his goals for the division and some differences between this deployment and the division’s previous tour in 2003-04.

In that tour, most of the brigades deployed with 1st Armored Division were subordinate brigades of the division.

“This time, we’ll be getting brigade combat teams from all over the United States working for the division headquarters,” Hertling said. “We’ll be getting a real bevy of folks that we haven’t trained with other than a small exercise down in Grafenwöhr.”

Hertling said he doesn’t expect the new composition of brigades to complicate how the division operates.

“We’re all on one page in how to do business,” he said.

One soldier’s question focused on the mission ahead — specifically, what role the division will play in helping the Iraqis regain control.

When that happens, a local governing body can deal with security threats and with the state government, Hertling said. The U.S. military enters into “Operation Overwatch,” recedes into the background and provides support when needed, he said.

“That’s the strategy of helping Iraq take care of itself,” Hertling said.

Of the 19 provinces in Iraq, six will be under 1st AD control, Hertling said. In two of those provinces, the U.S. military is already in Operation Overwatch mode. The goal is to turn over the other four by the end of the division’s deployment.

Hertling also touched on some issues unrelated to the division’s deployment. One listener wanted to know what would be happening with the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division out of Schweinfurt following its return this fall from Iraq.

When the brigade’s tour concludes, it will reflag as a new unit out of Fort Riley, Kan., Hertling said. The brigade will then be known as the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division.

Then, “they will go back into a training cycle and after a certain period of time will become available to deploy again,” Hertling said.

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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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