Troops from the 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division officially received orders Wednesday extending them for an extra 125 days in Iraq, military officials said.
The extension was announced last week by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as part of President Bush’s new Baghdad security plan. The order affects several thousand soldiers who are mainly National Guardsmen from Minnesota, Iowa, Kentucky and other states.
“This is the word we were waiting for. The news last week came as a surprise to all of us,” Col. David Elicerio, the brigade commander, was quoted as saying in an Army news release.
“Ever since the early rumors about this deployment back in 2005, we have relied upon official orders to make our plans. I know such caution can be frustrating for those who want speed, but I believe the tradeoff in accuracy is worth it.”
The troops are now expected to leave Iraq around August, meaning the unit will have served the longest continual combat tour in Iraq since the invasion. The seven battalions that make up the brigade have patrolled more than 1.5 million miles of Iraq; inspected tens of thousands of vehicles; upgraded more than 600 armored vehicles; and re-enlisted almost a thousand soldiers, officials said.
“I think everyone was a little shocked by the news,” brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Douglas Julin was quoted as saying in the release. “It’s hard on families, on employers. Everyone was making plans for a spring reunion back home. But, we’ve made it this far, we can make it through this.”