Reassignment has some bound for desert again
Stars and Stripes June 28, 2003
ILLESHEIM, Germany — After 7½ months fighting scorpions and sandstorms in Kuwait and Iraq, Capt. Jonathan Elias could hardly wait to spend his 30 days’ leave hitting the beach in Hawaii.
Elias, 30, of North Kingston, R.I., flew his AH-64 Apache through the Karbala Gap and on to Baghdad with the 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment. It was the first V Corps unit deployed to the Middle East last September, and the first to come home in mid-May.
But the 2-6 Cavalry has cased its colors to move to Fort Hood, Texas, for conversion to the AH-64D Longbow Apache. Nearly all of its current soldiers and officers are scattering to other units. Through sheer bad luck, Elias is one of many who soon will find themselves back in Iraq.
He is scheduled to report July 15 to the 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, now on duty at Balad Air Base, 40 miles north of Baghdad.
Suddenly, Elias’ Hawaii beach time has been cut by two-thirds.
“My mom cried at first, but she understands,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going scuba diving for 10 days before I go back to the sand. At least 10 days is better than nothing.”
The enormous new Army commitment in Iraq means few soldiers anywhere are likely to avoid a long desert deployment in the next couple of years. Most of four Army divisions — the 1st Armored, the 3rd and 4th Infantry, and 101st Airborne — already are there, and others are gearing up to take their places now that its clear keeping peace won’t be easy. Slices of dozens of other units also are doing desert duty.
Still, a peculiar set of circumstances is exacting a heavy toll on some of the soldiers from the 2-6 Cavalry. Among the first deployed units, they also have spent the longest in the theater.
Their return home normally would have assured them a long rest.
The unit’s long-scheduled reformation as a Longbow squadron, though, meant the current troops would land with other units. Many, if not most, of those units are either in Iraq or will be going there soon.
“I try not to think about it,” said Sgt. Tim Templeton, 22, of Tucson, Ariz., who is transferring to the 4th ID in the next month. “Until then, I’m going to enjoy my time — including getting married.”
The reassignment of all his troops has taken up most of the time of 1st Sgt. Homer Yates, the 2-6 Cavalry’s command sergeant major. The Army’s stop-movement order in January voided every soldier’s planned transfer.
Few, if any, are getting the assignments they wanted; most are going wherever the Army needs them.
The Personnel Command did not even begin reassigning soldiers until after the 2-6 Cavalry returned to Germany in late May.
“It took too long for the messages to get back up to the branches that our soldiers were back,” Yates said. “The Army’s known for a long time we’re going to deactivate. [The new assignment orders] shouldn’t have taken this long.”
Yates has tried to persuade leadership in the soldiers’ new units to assign them to rear detachments, and he thinks many of them will get to stay home for awhile.
That’s not the case for officers and pilots, though, who usually are filling essential slots in combat units. Their recent battle experience makes their new commanders want them even more, in spite of the cost to the officers’ families.
Maj. Steve Wilson, 38, has just finished a stint as the 2-6 Cavalry’s operations officer. He’s due to report to Balad on July 15 as executive officer of the unit’s parent command, the 11th Aviation Regiment, which traveled downrange in February. He sees it as an exciting new challenge — but he can’t help but wish it didn’t involve another long camping trip in Iraq.
“[2-6 soldiers’ families] have got a lot of pride,” Wilson said, “but they feel like we’ve done our share.”
Capt. Paul Jones, 27, joined the 2-6 Cavalry as intelligence officer late last summer, just as the unit was leaving for Kuwait. He spent more than half of his previous tour deployed to Central and South America on counter-intelligence missions.
He and his wife, Jessica, had looked forward to some time together. But like Wilson, he will be reporting to the 11th Aviation staff by mid-July.
“My wife took it better than I thought she would,” Jones said.
“Hopefully,” he added, “we’ll be back for the holidays.”
That prayer that is being heard in many military households this year.