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The members of the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade, known as the Rakkasans, have been keeping a brutal pace, with deployments in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. But that hasn’t stopped brigade troops from re-enlisting: In February 2002, from left, Staff Sgt. Stanley L. Richardson, Spc. Armando L. Acevedo Jr., Spc. Adrian M. Hollar and Staff Sgt. Scott M. Weaver are sworn in at Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan.
The members of the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade, known as the Rakkasans, have been keeping a brutal pace, with deployments in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. But that hasn’t stopped brigade troops from re-enlisting: In February 2002, from left, Staff Sgt. Stanley L. Richardson, Spc. Armando L. Acevedo Jr., Spc. Adrian M. Hollar and Staff Sgt. Scott M. Weaver are sworn in at Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan. (David Josar / S&S file photo)

TALL AFAR AIRFIELD, Iraq — It’s been a busy two years for the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade.

Known as the Rakkasans, the brigade over the past three years has bounced from peacekeeping in Kosovo to terrorist hunting in Afghanistan to warfighting in Iraq. It has spent more than 16 of the past 24 months deployed — and faces a second Christmas away from home because it’s not due to rotate out of Iraq until spring.

Despite the brutal pace, troops within the brigade are re-enlisting in record numbers.

That surprised Master Sgt. Eric Miller, the brigade’s top career manager, who said he “literally laughed” when he received his three-month re-enlistment objective for the brigade in July.

“There was just no way we were going to get that many,” he said. “We’d never seen numbers that high before.”

The quota of soldiers he had to convince by the end of September to stay in the Army included 81 “first-termers” finishing up their initial contracts, 20 mid-career soldiers with less than 10 years in the Army and 17 career soldiers who had crossed the 10-year mark.

No problem.

“We have those numbers across the board,” Miller said, “and will be going over in every category, except the careerist.”

Of 400 initial-term soldiers eligible to re-enlist, 83 agreed to a second tour. And more have re-enlisted this quarter than in any quarter in the previous five years, said Miller.

Getting just 45 first-termers in any quarter would be tough. “But we’ve already got almost twice that,” he said.

“It’s amazing, really,” he added. “You would think that they would be resentful toward what the Army has required from them, but it is quite the contrary.”

Miller credits the trend to good leadership and soldier pride.

“Leaders at every level are genuinely interested in their soldiers’ futures and welfare, and the soldiers are taking pride in how much they have endured,” he said.

“They’re doing exactly what they signed up to do: serve their country; fight for the freedoms we all enjoy as Americans; and make their families, our veteran Rakkasans and their children proud of what they’re doing,” said Col. Michael Linnington, commander of the Rakkasans — which roughly translated means “umbrellas from heaven,” from when the brigade headed to Japan after World War II.

Basic realities also are driving re-enlistments, Linnington said.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were others — a few — who are unsure about what’s waiting for them on the other side,” said Linningon, referring to the flagging U.S. economy and a tight job market.

Plus, he said, his troops “don’t have time or access to set up anything — school, job, etc. — while we’re deployed. And in not wanting to let their buddies down, they re-up.”

For soldiers on the fence about re-enlisting, Linnington puts it this way: “If you don’t have a plan, and you enjoy what you’re doing, do the right thing for yourself and your family.”

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