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ARLINGTON, Va. — About 3,500 paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade will begin deploying to Iraq next month as the new call-forward force, Defense officials said Wednesday.

The troops are slated to replace Marines and sailors in the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, who were called from Kuwait to Anbar Province in November.

Originally, the brigade was not slated to be part of the next Iraq rotation, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates decided on Tuesday to use the unit to serve as the new call-forward force, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

The head of U.S. Central Command had asked that the call-forward force be reconstituted in Kuwait as opposed to having units at their home station ready to deploy as such a force if needed, Whitman told reporters Wednesday.

The brigade’s deployment is expected to last 120 to 240 days, meaning the troops could be home in September, Whitman said.

Asked why the brigade’s tour would be shorter than the average one-year deployment Army troops face, Whitman said, “We’ve in the past deployed forces early, extended forces in theater, but right now that’s the current plan for this particular unit.”

The 2nd Brigade has been kept on a higher alert status, ready to deploy with little or no advance notice, said Maj. Tom Earnhardt, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division.

The paratroopers receive extra “parachute pay” as an incentive to remain on Airborne status, Earnhardt said.

Although the unit is initially slated to go to Kuwait, the commander of U.S. Central Command could move the unit within theater, Whitman said.

If the troops do go north, they would be the third call-forward force to deploy to Iraq in a little more than a year.

In addition to the 15th MEU, the Baumholder, Germany-based 1st Armored Division, 2nd Brigade Combat Team arrived in Kuwait in November 2005 as a reserve force.

After the Golden Mosque bombing in Samarra, about 700 troops with the brigade were dispatched to Baghdad to quell rising sectarian violence. Over the next few months, the rest of the brigade was sent to Anbar province in the Baghdad area.

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