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ARLINGTON, Va. — The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Vicenza, Italy, as well as Bamberg and Schweinfurt in Germany, will be part of the next rotation of troops slated to begin arriving early next year in Iraq, Department of Defense officials said Friday.

The 173rd is made up of six battalions: two in Vicenza, three in Bamberg and one in Schweinfurt.

The entire 3,300-strong brigade will be among the 57,000 troops slated to be part of the 2007-2009 Iraq rotation, officials said.

Some soldiers from the unit have spent two of the last four years serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, though most Sky Soldiers are new to the unit. It experienced about a 60 percent turnover after returning from Afghanistan this spring.

In March 2003, about 1,000 troops with the unit jumped into northern Iraq near the Turkish border and made their way south to Kirkuk, losing nine members of the brigade.

After only a year back on the ground in Vicenza — including a few months training in Germany — the Sky Soldiers returned downrange, but without their parachutes. The Sky Soldiers spread out in Afghanistan, helped by the 173rd Support Battalion, which activated in Iraq.

Seventeen members of the brigade died in Afghanistan.

News of the brigade’s deployment caught public affairs officers with the 173rd off guard.

Maj. Ryan Dillon, public affairs officer for the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) and Staff Sgt. Jacob Caldwell, noncommissioned officer in charge of public affairs for the brigade, both said the unit had not received any deployment orders as of 7 p.m. CET Friday.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said standard operating procedure is to notify units about upcoming deployments first, then tell Congress, before finally making deployments public.

“I wish that was perfect, and every individual would know before it was made public, and I don’t know in this particular case at what level in the chain of command that might have knowledge of this,” he said.

Whitman said the other units heading to Iraq as part of the next rotation are:

Division headquarters, 3rd Infantry Division, out of Fort Stewart, Ga.4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kan.4th Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, out of Fort Lewis, Wash.3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Benning, Ga.1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, out of Fort Bragg, N.C.Whitman would not give specific dates for when each unit will deploy citing operational security concerns, but he said the troops are expected to arrive in country in early 2007.

He said an additional 37,000 combat support troops also are expected to be part of the upcoming Iraq rotation.

“We will be alerting approximately 27,000 active-duty and 10,000 reserve component combat support and combat service support units in units smaller than brigade size,” Whitman said.

Whitman did not identify those units, explaining that is the responsibility of each of the services, not the Defense Department, to announce those.

“We do brigade-size elements and higher,” he said.

The 57,000 troops make up the initial phase of the next rotation to Iraq, Whitman said.

“These should be characterized as replacement forces,” he said.

Also on Friday, Whitman announced that about 1,500 troops with the 218th Brigade Combat Team of the South Carolina Army National Guard are slated to go to Afghanistan as part of the next troop rotation.

They will be joined by 6,200 active-duty and 600 reserve component combat support troops, he said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Kent Harris contributed to this report from Vicenza, Italy.


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