BAGHDAD, Iraq — Serve a six-month rotation in one of the world’s hottest spots?

A handful of soldiers in the 1st Armored Division would readily volunteer for such a mission. Of course, those soldiers are already in the Iraqi capital. And they’re willing to gamble that half a year is shorter than what they might end up serving here.

“One of the hardest parts is not knowing when you’re going to come home,” said Pvt. Christopher King of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, while guarding one of the entrances to the Martyrs Monument in northeast Baghdad.

During testimony before a congressional committee last week, Defense Department officials reportedly didn’t dispute statements by committee members that American forces might be required in Iraq for at least a decade.

If that’s true, then a rotation of forces similar to the process established in ongoing peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo might be in the cards for American active-duty, National Guard and Reserve servicemembers stationed in Europe and the States.

Capt. David Williams, who leads Company C of the 55th Personnel Support Battalion based in Friedberg, Germany, served in an infantry unit in Bosnia in 1998. Now, he’s often in an office in Iraq handling personnel records and mail distribution at the 1st AD’s 1st Brigade headquarters.

“It’s a lot more dangerous here,” he said of the difference between the two missions. Of course, that’s because the fighting in Bosnia had essentially been over for years during Williams’ deployment there. That’s not true in Iraq, where there are still pockets of resistance and those who seemingly don’t acknowledge the current American role in the country.

But Spc. Karla Torres, who serves in Williams’ company, said soldiers feel they’re performing a vital, though sometimes dangerous, mission.

“It’s very important. We’re not going to have a repeat of what we did in ’91,” she said, referring to the U.S. decision not to push Saddam Hussein from power in the Persian Gulf War. The decision is cited by some today as part of the reason why some Iraqis are hesitant to embrace the American troops.

For his part, King said his interaction with the local population has been positive. Locals seem to be grateful the Americans are here, he said.

“It’s not much different than other Third World countries,” said Pfc. Jesus Lugo, a scout for the brigade. He said Iraq’s a bit like Mexico, “with an L.A. twist.”

But Lugo and others interviewed said they could endure six months in Iraq, especially if they had a better handle on when they were leaving.

“Six months you can just set in your mind and you know how long it’s going to be,” Williams said. “You can have something to look forward to.”

For many U.S. soldiers, a rotation in Iraq might just be that, something to mark on the calendar.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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