1st AD spouses guarded over early return
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Soldiers’ wives are hopeful, but skeptical, about news the 1st Armored Division may be coming home to Germany sooner than expected.
“We’re not going to believe it till they’re back standing in the [Hall of Champions] gym,” said Sarah Austin, referring to the main gymnasium from which soldiers traditionally deploy and return to H.D. Smith Barracks in Baumholder.
“We don’t want to get built up. We did that last time and they didn’t come back,” said Austin, whose husband, Pfc. James Austin, is in Iraq with the 40th Engineer (Combat) Battalion.
The 1st AD was scheduled to begin returning to Germany in April, but the Wiesbaden-based division was given a 90-day extension that was expected to total 120 days with demobilization. That would have meant most of the division wouldn’t have left Iraq until August.
But on Thursday, Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, head of U.S. operations in Iraq, told The Associated Press that 1st AD would be “out of harm’s way” by July 15.
An advance party of the Baumholder-based 2nd Brigade is due back June 20, according to several sources.
News of the pending early homecoming is spreading slowly here, though some details remain sketchy.
Her husband, Spc. Andres Herrera Diaz, assigned to 40th Engineers, called and said he might be coming home early, “and I said, ‘Oh, my God!’” said Samira Herrera Diaz. “I can’t believe it.”
After her husband called, she got a call from her Family Readiness Group leader saying the division is coming home sooner than scheduled, said Herrera Diaz. “I said, ‘OK, it’s true.’”
Now, she’s getting ready for his homecoming again “just like I did in April,” she said.
But in about a dozen interviews, spouses were reluctant to celebrate.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Patrice Alcorn, who’s husband, Sgt. Christopher Alcorn, deployed 13 months ago with Baumholder’s 47th Forward Support Battalion, and is attached now to the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment.
Patrice Alcorn said she’s afraid the Metz announcement of 1st AD forces leaving Iraq by July 15 “is just something to pacify us.”
The reality for military spouses is if Iraq’s security situation deteriorates, as it did before the division was extended in April, then soldiers could end up being extended a second time, Alcorn said. “If it gets worse, need be they may have to stay.”
She believes the Army is short of soldiers, and it’s a matter of pulling together forces to relieve the 1st AD.
Indeed, when he visited 1st AD bases last week, Gen. Richard Meyers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, didn’t rule out the possibility the 1st AD may be extended a second time if the Iraq situation deteriorated.
Part of the reason the 1st AD was first extended was that the Pentagon’s decision to add forces in Iraq after increasing attacks by Sunni insurgents in Fallujah, Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. Then, Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite militia began battling U.S. forces in the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.
Instead of the Fort Hood, Texas-based 1st Cavalry Division replacing the 1st AD, the 1st AD’s 13,500 troops — plus perhaps 3,000 soldiers in attached units — stayed in support.
The 2nd Infantry Division was supposed to transfer to Iraq from South Korea in time to relieve the 1st AD, but that plan has changed, according to media reports. Now, elements of the Fort Drum, N.Y.-based 10th Mountain Division and two Marine Brigades will replace the 1st AD.
If it turns out that for some reason the 1st AD can’t return, she understands, Patrice Alcorn said. “They’re doing great work.” With the security 1st AD soldiers are providing, “kids can go to school. Women can go to shopping” for their families in some level of security, she said.
Other spouses said they were disappointed and frustrated by the first extension, but understood the circumstances.
Several Baumholder spouses credited Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, for boosting home-front morale after the extension. Bell visited 1st AD bases, promising to break through regulations to help families cope with complications from the extension.
“He talked to wives in town halls, and he told us flat out what the situation was and gave us specific information,” said Charlene Thompson, whose husband, Spc. Archie Thompson, is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. “He even gave us his e-mail address if we had problems. He helped a lot!”
Alcorn said she’s “comfortable” with the possibility her husband won’t come home early because “he’s in a good company … he’s a great NCO working with great NCOs.
“If he’s here, he’s here. If he’s not, he’s not.”
Soldiers, Alcorn said, serve “at the needs of the Army. Any spouse who thinks differently is crazy.”