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BAUMHOLDER, Germany — As 1st Armored Division soldiers prepare to deploy to Iraq, they still don’t know exactly what U.S. Central Command planners and American policy-makers will ask of them in a transition period between combat and stabilization.

The division is coming off months of intensive combat training, according to 1st AD officers. But the situation in Iraq has changed drastically since the German-based division got its deployment orders March 4, with the military now focused on bringing order to post-combat anarchy.

U.S. units deploying to peacekeeping missions go through special training. But the situation in Iraq does not neatly overlay ongoing missions in the Balkans, where the fundamentals come down to arranging bases, equipment and materiel for efficiently patrolling sectors.

Until U.S. policy-makers spell out political objectives and any potential role for non-coalition allies, “it is much too early to be speculating on military forces, roles and missions and facilities,” Don Snider, a political science professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, wrote in an e-mail interview.

The consensus at 1st AD bases is that the division is ready for whatever comes: fighting or peacekeeping. Officers and soldiers say that more and more, those skills overlap, with peacekeeping woven into doctrine from the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., to the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels.

“If I can occupy an [observation point] as a scout, I can occupy a check point,” said Capt. Jerry Turner as his unit loaded up for Iraq last week at a Friedberg railhead just outside the gates of Ray Barrack.

“It really comes down to application of force,” said Turner, Troop F commander with the Büdingen-based 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment’s Brigade Reconnaissance Team. “And we train for that all the time.”

“We’re going into this with our eyes wide open.”

Exactly what Turner and other soldiers will see is still over the horizon. But the 1st AD already is getting feedback from the front.

On Wednesday, Capt. Toby Magsig, Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander for the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment at the Baumholder-based 2nd Brigade, held a 22-scenario situational response package e-mailed from Army legal staff on the ground in Iraq. Those scenarios are drawn from real-world events, such as how to react to civilians bearing packages that might be bombs.

“We have a huge advantage over units just thrust right into this ... especially for me as an HHC commander,” Magsig said. “We’re learning lessons passed on by command. We’re learning vicariously through their experiences.”

It is likely that U.S. officials will add to that training when the 1st AD arrives in country, said Maj. Scott Slaten, public affairs officer at 1st AD headquarters in Wiesbaden.

“It’s not like they’ll be landing at Anzio Beach and going straight into battle,” Slaten said.

Division soldiers already bring a wealth of experience, said Turner, who was deployed for six months to Haiti, a year to Bosnia, then six months to Kosovo.

“That’s 24 months of real-world experience,” he said. “Now, I’ve been gone a little more than most, but I’m representative of our field grade officers.”

The Balkans’ experience is invaluable for soldiers. It includes everything from getting accustomed to carrying loaded weapons to dealing with media, non-governmental organizations and civilians on the battlefield, Magsig said.

Such experience is a byproduct of far more than the United States has invested in Balkans peacekeeping. U.S. peacekeeping missions in the Balkans have cost about $50 billion during 12 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office estimates. Just what sort of dividends that investment will pay in Iraq remains to be seen.

It is likely that “there will not be a lot transferable from the Balkans to Iraq, for the simple reason that the political objectives will be significantly different,” said Snider, a retired Army colonel and co-author of “The Future of the Army Profession.”

In the Balkans, NATO accepted — with U.S. endorsement — a long-term role.

“The same does not hold true in Iraq,” he wrote.

Ultimately, success comes down to individuals, soldiers say.

American soldiers have a proven ability to quickly build rapport with locals through being honest and objective security providers, Turner said: “How many times have you seen photos of soldiers playing soccer with kids?” In the Balkans, “the Army brought a calming influence.

“Basically, we prohibit bad things from happening.”

Balkans vs. Iraq

If the United States goes it alone, its stabilization commitment may be on a far more immense scale than in the Balkans.

• Kosovo encompasses about 4,500 square miles, about the size of a large Texas county, with a population of 2.2 million.

• Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a population of 4 million, has about the same number of people as Atlanta, spread out over an area the size of West Virginia.

• By comparison, Iraq is closer in size to California, with a population of an estimated 22 million people, according to the CIA’s 2002 World Factbook.

The United States sent a 20,500-strong force into Bosnia in 1995 to enforce the Dayton peace accords, ending five years of fighting as the former Yugoslavia broke apart.

In 1999, the United States sent about 7,000 troops into Kosovo, part of a multinational force to end what the Clinton administration and European allies viewed as ethnic cleansing by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Augmented by soldiers from 22 nations including Germany, France and Italy, the U.S. presence in the Balkans after 2000 averaged about 10,000 troops — 4,000 in Bosnia, 6,000 in Kosovo — until the Bosnia force was reduced last year. That was less than 3 percent of the total active-duty force of 480,000 as of 2000, according to The Soldiers Almanac 2002.

Currently, there are about 130,000 American military personnel in Iraq. The Washington Post reported March 31 that the Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated 45,000 to 60,000 U.S. and coalition troops might be needed to keep peace in Iraq.

— Stars and Stripes

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