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HEIDELBERG, Germany — A group of V Corps soldiers got their marching orders for the Middle East on New Year’s Eve. The orders are the first of what officials expect to be a flurry of deployments to the region from Germany in the opening weeks of 2003.

Some 800 troops from four of the corps’ main support units will deploy to the Middle East over the next month, V Corps spokesman Maj. Dean Thurmond said.

“They will be deployed for an undetermined period of time,” said Thurmond.

Soldiers on holiday leave will not be affected, he said. “The deployment will take place over the next month or so, so there’s really no reason to cancel leave.”

The vast majority of the contingent, Thurmond, said, will come from the 94th Engineer Battalion (Heavy), part of the corps’ 130th Engineer Brigade.

Led by Lt. Col. Paul Grosskruger, the battalion is known as the Wolverines and is based in Vilseck, Germany. With more than 100 pieces of heavy construction equipment, the battalion specializes in building up infrastructure — airfields, roads, barracks and other support facilities — in time of war.

In addition to the engineers, soldiers from the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, communications experts from the 22nd Signal Brigade, and truck drivers, mechanics and logisticians from the 3rd Corps Support Command will also be deploying.

The latest group of V Corps soldiers will follow a 550-soldier task force of attack helicopters from V Corps’ 11th Aviation Brigade, which deployed to Kuwait in October, as well as a cadre of headquarters staff, which has kept the corps command post up and running inside Iraq’s tiny southern neighbor following top-level war games there last month.

Headquartered in Heidelberg, Lt. Gen. William Wallace’s V Corps leads the vast majority of combat units in Europe, including the 1st Infantry Division and 1st Armored Division.

The leaders of those units — along with top staffs of the U.S.-based 1st Cavalry Division and 101st Airborne Division — are slated to gather in Germany for war games under V Corps in mid-January.

Dubbed Victory Scrimmage, the exercises are designed to flesh out invasion plans into Iraq, should the White House order the military to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

While Thurmond declined to say specifically where the V Corps contingent was heading, a senior military official familiar with the orders said the majority of soldiers would be going to Kuwait, adding the deployment is only the first wave.

“There will be more to follow in the coming weeks,” the official said privately. “This is going to be a drawn-out process designed to give our potential adversaries pause.”

The deployment orders came as President Bush told reporters he hoped the showdown with Saddam Hussein could end without war.

“One of my New Year’s resolutions is to work to deal with these situations in a way so that they’re resolved peacefully,” said Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch as the V Corps orders were being handed down from the Pentagon.

“We’ve got a military presence there to remind Saddam Hussein, however, that when I say we will lead a coalition of the willing to disarm him if he chooses not to disarm, I mean it.”

To that end, Bush had ordered a massive new buildup up forces in the Middle East that is expected to more than double the 60,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines now in the Middle East.

Along with the latest units from Europe, at least two aircraft carriers and a hospital ship are preparing to steam to the Persian Gulf region, as well as a wide range of additional Air Force units, including more fighter, strike, bomber and rescue squadrons.

Thousands of Marines are also on alert to deploy to the region under the I Marine Expeditionary Force, which trained alongside V Corps in Kuwait last month.

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