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FRIEDBERG, Germany — The commander of the 1st Armored Division stepped before a couple of hundred military spouses Wednesday to explain why the Army needs to keep their partners in Iraq several weeks longer.

The Ray Barracks theater in Friedberg was crowded and hot, so much so that several doors were thrown open to air out the place. And that’s sort of the tack that Maj. Gen. Fred D. Robinson adopted — get things out into the open.

“It’s almost incomprehensible for me to understand the load that each and every one of you carries every day,” Robinson said.

Robinson learned Saturday that the 1st Brigade would be extended, then worked the issue Sunday with his staff and began spreading the news Monday. The brigade, which was due back in mid-January, is needed, the general said, and it’ll mean the unit that is replacing them will have the opportunity to spend Christmas at home.

“Overall, I understand why the decision was made,” Robinson said, “but it doesn’t lessen your concern or pain.”

“They say six weeks (longer), but who knows,” Janine Dorsey, wife of Sgt. Robert Dorsey, said outside the theater after the main briefing ended.

As she spoke, Robinson stood inside personally answering question after question, something he felt he needed to do even though it set him well behind schedule. His itinerary included yet another memorial service for three soldiers killed downrange.

“They have a job to do,” said Dorsey, who works for Army Community Service in Giessen. “It’s not fun for them to deliver this message.”

Nor was it a joyful experience for the spouses, many of whom keep calendars that count down the number of days left in the deployment.

“It’s only 45 days,” said Laura Bickers, wife of Spc. William Bickers. “We can do it.”

Several spouses said they’ll be holding their breath once overtime begins. When the unit had its stay in Iraq extended at the last minute two years ago, soldiers who would have been home were lost.

But on this day, many spouses just didn’t want to go there, didn’t want to talk about the overtime period in that vein. Instead, they raised issues with Robinson’s staff, ranging from ridiculous store hours on base to speeding autos in housing areas.

Taking it all in was Spc. Jose Gonzalez, who happened to be on leave from Iraq when the extension was announced. He hopes to see more of Europe when he returns from his tour.

“I have spent more time in Iraq than in Germany,” Gonzalez said.

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