After extension, three soldiers at Camp Taji decide to re-enlist
CAMP TAJI, Iraq — During his recent yearlong deployment in northern Iraq, Staff Sgt. Gilbert Romero regularly told his friends that he couldn’t wait to get out of the Army.
But when his unit’s stay in Iraq was extended by four months, Romero did something unexpected. He re-enlisted for another four years.
Romero and two of his colleagues from the Fort Wainwright, Alaska-based 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team re-enlisted Monday at Camp Taji, near Baghdad.
Joining him were staff sergeants Chris Briggs, 25, of Muskegon, Mich., and Josh Varney, 24, of Palmdale, Calif.
Romero and Varney re-enlisted for four years, with a $15,000 bonus each; Briggs committed to six years, taking a $4,000 bonus and transferring half of his college benefits to his wife, who will use the money to finish her master’s degree. Briggs and Romero, who have served seven and six years, respectively, said they planned to serve 20 years in the military. Varney, with six years under his belt, is still deciding.
The re-enlistments buck the expectation that the extension would diminish soldiers’ fervor for service.
“It’s imbedded in me,” said Romero, 24, of Taos, N.M.. “The things I’ve done, the people I’ve met, the hardships I’ve been through — I don’t think I could get out.”
Varney and Briggs said they had already committed to re-enlisting before they heard their brigade would be kept in Iraq for another four months.
“It’s the third time I’ve been extended since I’ve been in the Army,” Briggs said.
All said they accepted the possibility of returning to Iraq again in the coming years.
“I understand there’s a possibility of coming back,” Varney said. “If I come back, I made the choice to do it.”
Battalion commander Lt. Col. Al Kelly praised the three for choosing to stay in the service.
“It means a whole lot to see guys re-enlisting right now,” he said. “For a guy to get extended and re-enlist says a hell of a lot about the character of that man.”
The 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team was extended for up to four months in July and later moved from Mosul to Baghdad to quell sectarian violence, joining the second phase of Operation Together Forward.
One soldier who was extended was shot in Baghdad and died on Sept. 2.