To 1st Infantry Division troops, Army's stop-loss orders weren't unexpected
WüRZBURG, Germany — Soldiers wearing the “Big Red One” shoulder patch aren’t going anywhere soon — except Iraq.
The Pentagon this week imposed stop-loss and stop-movement orders on all troops headed to the Middle East next spring, meaning no one can leave the unit or transfer to another until summer 2005. The orders include the 1st Infantry Division, based in Würzburg, which is scheduled to relieve the 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit.
Soldiers said they were expecting some sort of freeze for weeks.
“We weren’t surprised at all,” said Spc. Nateisha Cobb, 23, of the Würzburg-based 67th Combat Support Hospital, which is scheduled to join other 1st ID units in Iraq. “If you’re affiliated with the 1st ID, then you should expect to go.”
Spc. Clifferd Heick, of the 82nd Engineer Battalion in Bamberg, was due to leave the Army in March 2005. He’ll have to wait a few months longer, but he considers himself luckier than some.
“There are some soldiers in my unit who were due to PCS within a couple of weeks, and now they’ll have to stay for a year,” he said.
But, he added, “I knew the Army would put stop loss into effect again, because the Army really needs people right now.”
Spc. Michael Springstead of the Bamberg-based 54th Engineer Battalion, part of the 130th Engineer Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, also said the order was expected.
“I fell under stop loss when I went to Iraq in February, so I’m not surprised that the Army is doing it for this deployment, too,” he said.
Not everyone, though, thinks the Army should force soldiers to stay put, since they’re likely to end up in Iraq soon no matter where they transfer.
“I just don’t think it’s right,” said Spc. Justin D. Riley, 28, of the 101st Military Intelligence Battalion in Würzburg. “You can’t hide from this deployment, anyway. You’re going to go.”
Sgt. Maj. Scott Kuhar, the division’s command career counselor, said he’s heard little griping.
“No one’s called here and complained about stop loss,” he said. “The biggest concern is, ‘How am I affected?’”
He said his retention office is still waiting for Pentagon instructions on implementing the order. For now, his counselors are delaying any retirements or transfers until mid-2005. They’ll continue to re-enlist soldiers for job slots opening after that date.
Stop loss and stop movement are not absolute. According to a memo circulated by the Army’s G1 (personnel) command, soldiers eligible for mandatory or disability retirement will be allowed to leave, as will those separated for disciplinary reasons, poor performance or violation of the homosexual conduct policy.
Also, soldiers going to certain schools — for Special Forces and Rangers, or officer and warrant officer candidates — will leave. So will those in the middle of a permanent change of station whose household goods already have been shipped.
The 1st ID was scheduled to support the invasion of Iraq through Turkey last spring, but stayed home after the Turkish Parliament denied the U.S. request to base extra troops there. After seeing much of the rest of the Army earn battle patches in Iraq, 1st ID soldiers are eager to go, Kuhar believes.
In fact, he said, 53 percent of the 1st ID soldiers who have re-enlisted since Oct. 1 have opted to stay with their current unit. Typically, only about one-fourth choose that option. Another 1,100 soldiers have extended their current tours, knowing they would go to Iraq.
Spc. Tamblyn Jones, 26, of the 101st MI Battalion, said she is one of the soldiers who extended.
“I didn’t want to PCS back to the States and then redeploy with another unit,” she said. “If I’m going to deploy, I want to deploy with a unit I know.”
Sgt. Charles Hobdy, 36, also of the 101st MI Battalion, has served nearly 19 years in the Reserves or on active duty. He chose to extend with 1st ID and go to Iraq, instead of transferring to South Korea, so he could mentor younger soldiers. Plus, with his career nearly over, he’s looking forward to seeing some action.
“Out of all that time,” he said, “I’ve never set foot in a hot area.”
Most soldiers, though, seem to feel as Cobb does. She’s not exactly eager to spend an uncertain year in a dangerous desert war zone, but she’s willing.
“It’s just part of the job,” she said. “You have to prepare yourself, whether you want to go or not. But I’m ready.”
Rick Emert contributed to this report.