Spc. Michelle Rice, right, and Pfc. Daniel Godbout, both soldiers assigned to the 18th Military Police Brigade’s rear detachment in Mannheim, Germany, watch war reports on a projected television screen.

Spc. Michelle Rice, right, and Pfc. Daniel Godbout, both soldiers assigned to the 18th Military Police Brigade’s rear detachment in Mannheim, Germany, watch war reports on a projected television screen. (Rick Scavetta / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — While many V Corps troops head the charge across Iraq, fellow soldiers in the rear find themselves feeling frustrated and guilty as they watch the war on a TV screen.

There’s also the uneasy feeling that their comrades are in harm’s way. And most of all, they feel left out.

Still, they attack their daily duties, knowing that their jobs are just as essential to the Army’s success, they said.

Taking command of V Corps artillery’s rear detachment was difficult for Capt. Tim Schroeder, he said. He wanted to deploy.

“A leader should be with his main effort. Mine is in Kuwait,” Schroeder said. “Saying that, my heart is with those guys, but this job here is just as important.”

Schroeder’s troops, which number less than a dozen on duty, carry on with basic soldier tasks.

“It’s important to have a strong rear detachment,” said Master Sgt. James Trice, 39, a Desert Storm veteran with 21 years in uniform. “We put out a lot of hot fires that come down.”

In February, V Corps artillery troops thought they were deploying to Kuwait for a training exercise. The day they left, wartime deployment orders for the unit arrived. The 40 remaining soldiers left in the rear prepared 15 trucks and packaged tons of supplies for shipment.

When force protection measures increased on Tompkins Barracks in Schwetzingen, forcing drivers to park their cars on the opposite end of post, Schroeder devised a vehicle pass system for pregnant wives to drive through the base. Last week, his troops started running a shuttle to ferry people from the far-off parking lot.

Caring for the families of deployed soldiers is one of the rear detachment’s highest priorities, Schroeder said.

In the headquarters, Schroeder’s troops created a space for families to get information and relax. Dubbed the yellow ribbon room, families can access the Internet and e-mail or pick up leaflets with community information.

Schroeder’s detachment also sponsors incoming troops such as Spc. Jerry Claussen, 20, of Houston, who said he was itching to get back in the action. Claussen, an artillery observer who arrived at V Corps artillery two weeks ago, deployed twice to Central Asia with the 3rd Ranger Battalion.

“It kind of eats me up inside that I can’t be there,” Claussen said.

This week Claussen got his wish, he said. He headed for Iraq Monday, where he’ll use his field experience to help V Corps coordinate artillery fire.

But most rear detachment soldiers won’t get a chance like Claussen.

At V Corps headquarters on Campbell Barracks, Spc. Charlie Parks, shuffles paperwork for deployed troops from his office in the personnel shop. Parks, 31, of Wichita Falls, Texas, did similar work during a previous enlistment during Desert Storm, he said.

Like many on rear detachment, Parks has a medical condition — which he didn’t reveal — that kept him behind.

“It’s a tedious job, but I’m here to service those who can’t be here to get things done,” Parks said. “I wish I was down there. But here, they have someone they can depend on.”

Still others, like Sgt. 1st Class Lori Christopher, was glad to have stayed behind.

At the 18th Military Police Brigade headquarters in Mannheim, the hallways and offices are nearly empty. Less than a dozen soldiers are on duty in the rear headquarters. On March 9, the unit left Germany for Kuwait, Christopher said.

During the first week, she heard updates from the front. But when the war began last week, the calls stopped. Like others, she turned to television reports.

“I was excited, but scared,” Christopher said. “There are friends and close colleagues down there.”

In times of war, the brigade soldiers handle enemy prisoners, Christopher said. When she saw the first batch of Iraqi soldiers with their hands up, she thought of her fellow soldiers.

“I wonder if our guys have to deal with them,” Christopher said.

Meanwhile, Christopher’s husband, Kenneth, deployed to Turkey with the 51st Maintenance Company in February. She cares for their two daughters.

“I’m just lucky to be here,” Christopher said. “If I deployed, my kids would have gone back to the States.”

Tucked away in a quiet 18th MP brigade office, Spc. Michelle Rice, 27, of Chicago, stares into her computer screen. A knee injury kept her from deploying. She spends her day processing soldier’s records and filing reports. Each day she anxiously awaits the call for her to join her second family in Kuwait.

“I’d rather be with my unit,” Rice said. “I belong there. Plus, I wanted the experience.”

Pfc. Daniel Godbout, 21, of Tuscon, Ariz., also has a bad knee. He is glad the Army gave him time to care for his leg. And after watching news reports from the desert, he is less eager to join the fight.

“I have doubts about going now, with all the stuff I see,” Godbout said.

“Downrange, they may not see all this. I’m watching the reality.”

The two soldiers take breaks in a conference room with projected television images of the war, courtesy of CNN. Both feel stress and frustration, so much that they have lost sleep since the war began, they said.

“My sleeping schedule has been off. I’m concerned about their [soldiers’] well-being,” Rice said. I’m always wondering if they need something.”

Some tension comes from knowing that in Germany, they have many luxuries their comrades in the Middle East don’t. Even the simple pleasures such as good food, a hot shower and a warm place to sleep are things their fellow soldiers will have to wait for.

“They left everything behind,” Rice said, with her voice trailing off as she glanced out her office window. “And here we are — enjoying it all.”

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