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BAUMHOLDER, Germany — In this close-knit community, where many of the 1st Armored Division’s families live, spouses and children are coping in different ways with the probability that “Old Ironsides” may remain in Iraq for three or four more months.

While the Pentagon has not confirmed whether the division will be kept over its planned 365-day tour, defense officials told The Washington Post that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld halted troop movements and gave U.S. commanders five days to sort out which units are needed to contain the violence in Iraq.

V Corps, the division’s higher headquarters in Germany, has no official word of an extension, said Lt. Col. Kevin Gainer, a V Corps spokesman.

Meanwhile, soldiers’ families were told Thursday to expect their loved ones to remain in Iraq for up to four more months.

Sarah Washburn’s husband, John, a major with the 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment in Baghdad, told her Wednesday over the phone that he likely would be extended. She gave birth to their daughter, Emma, four months ago. She was expecting him home in a few weeks.

“Shock was my first reaction. I did not see this coming,” Washburn said. “But there’s nothing you can do. I’ll stick it out.”

While spouses in her neighborhood shed tears initially, the bonds built over the past year are helping her through it, Washburn said.

Younger wives, who are newer to military life, often slip through the cracks of the community support network.

Tears that Karissa Coulter cried over the possible extension turned to anger when she thought of her husband, Spc. Joel Coulter, having to stay longer. In the year and a half since they married, the couple has had slightly more than two months together. She knows few people in Baumholder and her family is thousands of miles away.

In the past couple of days, she has developed stomach pains, she said. Hearing folks speculate whether official word will come about the division’s future makes it worse, she said.

“If it’s bad news, it usually happens,” Coulter said. “I hate the Army right now. Why can’t they send some other unit?”

One wife, who learned Saturday that her husband was injured during a convoy ambush, could not bring herself to discuss the proposed extension.

Others also found it hard to talk, but know that there’s little they can do but wait.

On Friday night, Rebecca Chambers chatted online with her husband, Robert, a supply sergeant stationed in Baghdad. She’s had to tell their five children that their father is not coming home as planned.

“It’s not fair, but it’s reality,” she said. “We’re like soldiers, too. We’re just dealing with the family mission.”

Like many spouses of career soldiers, Chambers knows it’s best if her husband stays focused on his job during dangerous times.

“‘Don’t worry about me. I’m fine,’” she said she told her husband. “He needs to be alert now and watch his surroundings.”

A dozen soldiers stationed in Baumholder have been killed in Iraq in the past year, base officials said. Recent fighting in the country has killed dozens of U.S. troops and hundreds of Iraqis.

The U.S. military is developing strategies to combat the violence, Sunni hardliners and Shiite militia.

On Wednesday, Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the division commander, held a video teleconference with unit leaders in Germany, Lt. Col. Todd Buchs, the base commander, said.

“Word came down that it would probably be a 120-day extension. But families hear that and discard the word ‘probably,’” Buchs said. “We don’t have a decision yet, but we’re prepared to go either way.”

Two weeks ago, mail heading downrange was stopped, said Baumholder community mail supervisor Idalia Leza. Now, mail to soldiers in Iraq has resumed.

Some troops already have come home and begun reintegration sessions, a mandatory program for returning soldiers. The bulk of the troops were expected by early May.

On Friday, the Army Community Service office on base began 24-hour operations, Buchs said, to offer people a place to seek help.

The Crisis and Assistance Center, as it’s called, opened early Friday morning, said ACS director Donna Finney, the spouse of a Navy veteran who’s spent 30 years working for the military.

In Friedberg and Giessen, where the division’s 1st Brigade is based, officials are on hand to help families deal with the uncertainty of a possible deployment extension, said base spokeswoman Petra Roberts.

They also have a 24-hour hot line to help people cope with this situation, Roberts said.

Finney’s staff, which includes social workers such as Floyd Davison, have been offering reunion training to spouses for months.

They got the word out via the Internet, local television and mass e-mails. By Saturday, the phones began ringing. They’ve had more than a dozen calls for help.

“The phone has been ringing steadily,” Davison said. “Most of the time, they just need someone to talk to.”

One woman wanted to know how she should break the news to her kids. Another person asked if counselors could speak to a group of spouses.

In one case, a woman came in feeling a panic attack, Davison said. After calming her, Davison referred her to a doctor and psychologist at the base clinic, he said.

“In a few days, most of the spouses will be fine,” Finney said. “But others may still have problems — and we’ll be here for them.”


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