Baumholder troops face possible return to Iraq
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — For Staff Sgt. Kimo Ortiz, 32, from Bronx, N.Y., the hardest part about possibly going back to Iraq isn’t facing ambushes and rocket attacks, it’s looking into the eyes of his wife and two kids and saying goodbye again.
“They were pretty upset,” said Ortiz, when he broke the news last week that he might have to return. “My wife cried a lot, my kids didn’t understand why Daddy has to leave again.”
A member of the 1st Armored Division’s Baumholder-based 2nd Brigade, Ortiz has been home only about a month, among the lead troops originally sent home to prepare for the return of the rest of the division.
All that’s changed now, though, with news that the majority of “Old Ironsides” will serve up to four months beyond its one-year rotation.
Returning flights were halted last week, just prior to the Pentagon’s formal announcement on the extension, and now soldiers like Ortiz are on their way back to the war zone.
The first 90 troops returned to Iraq over the weekend, said division spokesman Sgt. Greg Withrow.
Meanwhile, leave for soldiers who have returned in recent weeks has been canceled, although soldiers already on leave have been allowed to finish their vacations.
Some 600 soldiers have returned to Germany since January, said Withrow, joining about 2,400 from the division — many of them new arrivals — already here.
Personnel managers are still working on who will go and when.
“Obviously, we will still have our rear detachments, but everyone is being looked at,” Withrow said. “All of the advance parties are being turned around.”
Even the division band — which had been sent back early to tune up for welcome-home ceremonies — is on its way back to the desert, he said.
Ortiz said he hasn’t gotten “the final word that I’m going back,” but like many of the early arrivers, there is a grim resignation that returning to the combat zone is all but inevitable.
“I don’t really want to go back,” said Ortiz, a veteran of a 12-month tour in Kosovo and nearly a year in Bosnia. “You can’t trust anyone over there. But I’ll do what I’m told. Like I said to my kids: ‘Sometimes daddies have to do things they don’t like to do.’”
Spc. Travis McBride feels torn.
An infantryman with the 2nd Brigade’s Company C, 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, McBride just returned from two weeks’ leave with his wife on Friday after arriving back in Germany last month.
“I don’t want to leave my wife again,” McBride said, “but this is what I joined the Army for.”
Company C, among the very first 1st AD units to deploy, returned 366 days after leaving for Iraq.
Most of the company is still on leave, McBride said, but due back at the end of this week. “Once everyone gets back, I guess we’ll find out what’s happening. I just feel lucky to have gotten some time home at all.”
Sgt. Rafael Contreras, a team leader from Company C, agrees. In fact, he feels guilty.
“I still have three of my soldiers over there,” Contreras said. “I kind of feel like I’m letting them down.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of troops have joined the division since February when officials stopped forwarding replacements to their units downrange.
Spc. Richard Flores, 22, from Dallas, is one of them.
“I really want to get down there,” he said. There are about 20 new arrivals in his infantry company, about half transferring from units just returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, the other half who haven’t deployed into the combat zone yet.
“I trust all of these guys with my life. It’s amazing we’re already really tight and we’ve got great leaders. I’m ready to go.”
Spc. Calvin Linnette was worried he’d missed his chance to go join the war.
He was transferred from the Army’s new Stryker Brigade just before it deployed to Iraq.
“I was really disappointed when I got here and found out it would be about year before we went anywhere. Now, I’m getting my chance.”
Not all the new arrivals are itching to get into the mix.
Pvt. Edward Cizik got here just a few weeks ago.
“I’ve got a 5-year-old daughter and another one on the way. The baby’s due in November, but I don’t know if I should bring my wife over here or leave her with her mom back in New Jersey.”
Cizik said he’s been told if his wife stays until he gets back, he’ll lose his on-base housing.
“It’s really tough to figure all this out. I’m not sure what do to.”