As 3rd ID's Iraq deployment stretches on, anger gives way to resignation
Stars and Stripes June 4, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — As Sgt. Mark Keel stood guard beside an M1 Abrams tank on a Baghdad street, he thought of his wife, Maria, and an infant daughter he’s never seen.
And it may be months before he gets a chance.
Last week, 3rd Infantry Division commanders told troops that they would remain in Iraq’s capital to assist the 1st Armored Division, despite earlier promises to return home when their relief arrived.
Like dozens of other soliders, Keel, 27, of Union City, Tenn., deployed before his daughter, Isabelle, was born Jan. 29. His wife recently got an e-mail from his command that said to expect him home in August, Keel said.
“She was waiting for me at Fort Stewart, but now she’s heading to her mom’s in Michigan,” said Keel, who missed Isabelle’s birth by just a week. “She was pretty upset. She planned on sticking it out another month.”
Like many 3rd ID soldiers, Keel was angry when he first heard the news last week. Since then, Keel has tried to think positive.
“We were told we would be [heading stateside] by July 1,” said Sgt. Charles Stenner, 26, of Durham, N.C. “Now we’re told we can look forward to a least another 90 days here.”
By now, soldiers are getting used to the idea, but they still want to hear a date to look forward to, they said.
“You can’t do anything about it, so drive on,” Keel said. “Getting depressed just makes it worse.”
About 20,000 3rd ID troops spearheaded a 21-day attack into Iraq. Following combat, the soldiers went straight from combat to peacekeeping to help stabilize Baghdad. Keel’s platoon pulls long hours at a fixed checkpoint near Baghdad’s Ministry of Agriculture.
The work is far less eventful than the combat they endured during the war.
For example, an older gentlemen approached the platoon and pointed to Keel asking for help. Vegen Kedekian said looters arrived in his neighborhood nearby once the soldiers left. Now looters were lighting fires and vandalizing in the Ministry of Education, he said.
“When the tank was there, no one dared do such a thing,” Kedekian said.
Rumors about a longer stay in Baghdad surfaced on May 15 shortly after 3rd ID commander Maj. Gen. Buford Blount spoke to Pentagon reporters via a teleconference and offered no return date.
During the teleconference, according to Defense Department transcripts, Blount said division leaders were planning for deployment home to Fort Stewart, Ga., but the unit does not have orders.
Blount also told reporters that some 3rd ID equipment, such as mobile tank bridges and rocket artillery, was not needed and was being sent to Kuwait to be put back in the military’s prepositioned stocks.
While troops are looking forward to going home, the redeployment will depend on the security situation in Baghdad and relief by other forces, Blount said.
“So we’ve been telling them, you know, it’s going to happen,” Blount said two weeks ago. “We’ve got a plan for it, and just continue to do your mission.”
Blount could not be reached for additional comment for this story.