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FORWARD OPERATING BASE BLUE DIAMOND, Iraq — “Twenty-nine days left,” says Spc. Scott Womack, sitting against a wall in a house being turned into an Iraqi police station in Albu Obaid.

“Stop with that talk,” Sgt. Eric Goodman says, cutting him off. “I don’t want to hear any of that.”

“We’ve been at 29 days before,” Sgt. Eric Rivera chimes in.

The Company C, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment soldiers, who are currently assigned to Task Force 2-37, were supposed to be home no later than Thursday, but their tour was extended earlier this year.

Their conversation is typical of many around the task force. It wouldn’t be fair to say morale is low, but the “Iron Dukes” are certainly ready to get the heck out of Iraq.

So soldiers are eagerly awaiting President Bush’s announcement this week about what the new plan is for the war in Iraq. There’s a somewhat preoccupying concern at Blue Diamond that an expected “surge” in troops will mean a second extension of duty for 2nd Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, which heads up their task force.

“We were extended last time [in 2004] and we were extended again this time. Anything’s possible,” Sgt. Paul Berner, 25, of Detroit, said.

“There’s always that chance,” added Spc. Prince Ogakwu, 20.

A first sergeant jokingly suggested pleading the case in the media that the Iron Dukes had done their part and should be able to go home. Other troops asked if a reporter already knew whether they’d be sticking around longer than the current end date. Privately, Pentagon officials have said the 1st Armored Division troops would likely not be extended for a second time.

The soldiers were scheduled to be back in Friedberg and Giessen, Germany, on Jan. 11. All that changed in the fall when their deployment was extended by a couple of months and they were moved from Tal Afar, where they had been for 10 months, to Ramadi.

At the time of the announcement in September, Capt. Thomas Breslin, fire support officer, was on leave in Martha’s Vineyard to get married. The day after the ceremony he flipped on the television and heard the news.

“But finding out in September allowed us to adjust to it,” Breslin said. “It was far enough time-wise from when we were supposed to leave that we hadn’t already checked out mentally.”

At this point, though, “most people just want to go home,” Berner said.

Some soldiers refuse to track the days until they go home and don’t want to hear others talk about the countdown.

“Why sit there and anticipate?” Ogakwu said. “It’s going to come, and if we get extended again, it’ll come then. The light in the tunnel will just be a little farther away.”

But others are practically tabulating the time on an Excel spreadsheet.

“If you want to be specific,” said Spc. Shane Carr, “some people will be on a plane in less than a thousand hours.”


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