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Troops from the 1st Armored Division are a likely choice should military officials extend tours to quell violence in Iraq, according to its division commander.

Extending the “Old Ironsides” division, which has served for the past year in Iraq, is one of several options being considered to address the Sadr militia attacks on coalition forces, Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey said Thursday evening via e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

“With our experience and proven performance, we are probably the coalition’s best option,” Dempsey said. “Moreover, the division’s soldiers and their families have invested too much, made too many personal sacrifices in support of this mission, to see it risked at such a critical time.”

Military leaders in Iraq are wrestling with how to contend with the recent upsurge in violence throughout the country that has left at least 40 Americans dead.

Bringing back the 4th Infantry Division or the 101st Airborne Division, which both recently left Iraq, is not a “reasonable or viable option,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a top operations officer in Baghdad.

When asked which units could reinforce troops in Iraq, Kimmitt referred questions to the Pentagon, adding, “They pick ’em, we fight ’em.”

Both Pentagon and U.S. Central Command officials insisted Thursday that no decision had been made on extending troop deployments.

The former commander of all U.S. forces in Europe also said Old Ironsides is the logical choice.

“They’re the most seasoned force there right now,” said retired Army Gen. George Joulwan.

More troops are clearly needed now, said Joulwan, who retired in 1997.

“We have to prevent this from unraveling,” he said.

Meanwhile, military community leaders in Germany told family members to prepare for the possibility that the division, which has begun its return home, to remain in Iraq for up to four more months.

In several communities, leaders issued a message to support groups which would relay the information to family members stating that the division could remain in Iraq for up to 120 more days. The memo states that in addition to the possible extension, units already returned to bases in Germany could be sent back to Iraq. Fresh soldiers could be added to the mix, the messages said.

Though 1st AD soldiers already have begun returning, the vast majority of 13,500 soldiers were scheduled to come home in May.

Lt. Col. Kevin Gainer, V Corps spokesman, declined to say how many 1st AD troops already are home.

Troops and families should expect the Army to enact stop-loss and stop-movement orders for troops in the division, the memo said. Officials may extend mail services to deployed soldiers should the Pentagon order come down, the memo said.

If extended, the division will do its duty “with confidence that our service matters to the country and to our families,” Dempsey said.

A formal transfer of responsibility from the 1st Armored Division to the Fort Hood, Texas-based 1st Cavalry Division is still scheduled for April 15, according to the memo.

In Friedberg, Germany, banners and balloons hung at Ray Barracks for returning soldiers expected this weekend were quietly removed. Family Readiness Groups have meetings scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Baumholder.

Word of the proposed extension swept across division bases Thursday in Wiesbaden, Hanau, Baumholder and Friedberg.

Joulwan, who was Dempsey’s commander in the late ’80s when the two served together in the Germany-based 3rd Armored Division, said if the division does get the nod, “we have to be clear to the troops and families why this decision is being made.”

“More importantly, we have to focus on the warfighting. There shouldn’t be any hand-wringing about why this is going on. If the focus is on ‘we should have gone home,’ we’re going to lose a lot of soldiers.”

When asked by reporters Wednesday if the Pentagon would break its pledge to keep Iraqi deployments to one year “boots on the ground,” Defense Department Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. troops “certainly would like to know that, and at that point where we are able to be specific we will certainly let them know.”

— Stars and Stripes reporter Lisa Burgess contributed to this report.

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