Troops welcome deployment definitiveness
July 25, 2003
WüRZBURG, Germany — Sgt. Javier Ramos-Garcia stepped off a bus this week and greeted his wife, Wanda, after nine months of peacekeeping duty in Kosovo — only to learn hours later he stands a good chance of heading to Iraq for an even longer stretch next year.
“I just got back yesterday,” Ramos-Garcia, 27, of the 1st Infantry Division’s Würzburg-based headquarters company, said Thursday. “But if we have to go, we just go ahead and go. It could be worse. They could have told me to pack up my stuff and go next month.”
Like tens of thousands of other soldiers, Ramos-Garcia got a better fix on his future Wednesday when the Pentagon at long last announced the deployment schedule for the next two years for the Army’s 10 busy divisions. For the first time since the Vietnam War, soldiers will serve one-year combat tours instead of the six months typical of peacekeeping tours.
The 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which led the U.S. assault on Iraq last spring, finally learned they will come home in September, and the Germany-based 1st Armored Division will return between February and April, said Gen. John Keane, acting Army chief of staff. And the 1st ID, withdrawn from the war planning when Turkey’s parliament refused to let it stage there, finally will deploy to Iraq.
This week’s announcement means achingly long deployments for soldiers and their spouses throughout the Army, the service providing 133,000 of the 156,000 troops for the U.S. contingent. Soldiers and spouses, though, said they were glad to at least get a schedule around which they can plan their lives.
“At least you know it’s one year. It’s not indefinite. And the conditions are getting better,” said Air Force Maj. Kirk Faryniasz, a theater airlift liaison officer working with the 1st ID in Würzburg. “It could be worse. It could have been two to three years. Soldiers always step up to the plate.”
Some young soldiers, readying for their first deployment, find the prospect of heading to combat exciting.
“It would definitely be an adventure, going to Iraq,” said Pfc. Tristan Keeler, 20, of the 1st Battalion, 33rd Field Artillery Regiment in Bamberg. “I’ll admit, though, it’s a little scary. You read in the paper every day about GIs getting killed.”
Bill Coppernoll, a 1st Infantry Division spokesman, could not confirm whether the deployment will include all of the division’s four brigades. Three of them are based in Germany, including the 2nd Brigade in Schweinfurt, the 3rd Brigade in Vilseck and the 4th Brigade in Katterbach, with the 1st Brigade at Fort Riley, Kan. Other division elements are in Würzburg, Kitzingen and Schweinfurt.
Like most of the Army, the Big Red One has been busy of late. The 2nd Brigade spent six months last year on peacekeeping duty in Kosovo, and the 3rd Brigade is just returning from Kosovo this week. The division packed up its gear in January and February, expecting to deploy to Turkey. About 1,000 troops got there but were sent home.
Still, the division is almost the only one left in the Army that hadn’t been sent to Iraq. So its troops widely expected they would be called up.
Nor did the news surprise troops already deployed in Baghdad. The Pentagon had been warning soldiers to expect their deployments to last a full year.
“I was expecting a one-year deployment,” said Lt. Col. Curtis Anderson, commander of the 1st Armored Division’s 501st Support Battalion from Friedberg, Germany, who has commanded the unit since June 28. “Our orders read 365 days.”
He said that he does not believe one-year deployments will affect either Army retention or recruiting.
To the contrary, “it’s probably going to cause people to stay in,” Anderson said. “Folks feel good about being here [in Iraq], both soldiers and Iraqi people.”
Sgt. David Brown, a 31-year-old Louisville, Ky., native who is with a maintenance company that is part of the 501st Forward Support Battalion, said he’ll be pleased if his unit gets out early next spring as promised.
Reporters Lisa Burgess and Kent Harris in Baghdad, Julianna Gitler in Kuwait, and Sandra Jontz in Washington contributed to this report.