BAGHDAD — Spc. Arron Vandeventer, a sniper, sat on a folding stool cleaning his weapon while other soldiers piled their duffle bags onto bunks around him.

This is home now, a warehouse-type room crammed with 40 bunk beds at Forward Operating Base Shield, near Baghdad’s former Olympic grounds between the Tigris River and Sadr City. Vandeventer arrived Monday from Suleikh, a joint U.S.-Iraqi security station that Americans are vacating as part of the plan to pull back from Iraq’s cities by June 30. The same day, about 150 U.S. soldiers officially moved out of a similar base called Basateen in eastern Baghdad.

When asked Tuesday afternoon what his new job would be at Shield, Vandeventer paused.

"Actually, we’re not really sure," he said.

First Lt. Rian Hardin said in many ways the crowded room is a good sign. It means the end is in sight.

“I love the Army,” he said, “but this is getting ridiculous. They don’t need us all. Send some of us home.”

Construction has begun on a joint operations command center to be shared by the Iraqi and U.S. armies. Plans began this week to move unused living trailers from Taji, a U.S. base northwest of Baghdad, into Shield to accommodate the incoming soldiers.

Despite a diminished presence in the cities, the goal is to keep the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers and officers working together, says Lt. Col. Scott Jackson, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, within the 1st Cavalry Division.

“In some ways, we’ll be closer to the IAs than we were,” said Jackson, who commands from FOB Shield.

One of that battalion’s company executive officers put it another way.

“We’re still in the city,” said 1st Lt. Adam Tyra. “We’re just shuffling around.”

A comprehensive agreement struck last year set many mileposts leading to the June 30 deadline. The Iraqi government has the authority to ask the United States to occupy or leave bases in the cities by the end of the month.

In east Baghdad’s Adhamiyah and Rusafa neighborhoods, the plan is to pull back from the small bases but continue to work on the Iraqi army’s communications and planning operations, Jackson said. That’s why the Army is building the joint command center, he said.

The shift in tactics also means that, down the road, the U.S. military will need more senior enlisted soldiers and officers like Hardin and Tyra to mentor Iraqi military leaders. That leaves some of the younger soldiers wondering what they will do in the coming months.

“We don’t have much of a job in this war, compared to last time,” said Sgt. Christopher Tagoon, who like Vandeventer is a member of the battalion’s sniper team.

The battalion deployed in January, and until Monday, Tagoon’s assignment was to man the headquarters office at Suleikh. He last deployed in 2007 with the same battalion. At one point during that 15-month deployment, the unit lost more than a dozen soldiers in just a few weeks, Tagoon said. This time, the battalion hasn’t lost a soldier.

The office job, he said, was a nice break from constant patrolling.

“It’s better for the families, too,” Tagoon said of those waiting back home.

Their orders came through later in the week. Vandeventer and Tagoon, part of the battalion’s scout platoon, will soon be working with the commando company for the 43rd Iraqi Army Brigade within the 11th Iraqi Army Division, according to Maj. Kevin Wallace, the battalion’s executive officer.

After Monday’s closing ceremony at Basateen, Jackson met with the Iraqi National Police general who now controls the entire base. He urged the general to call on the U.S. battalion for help in patrolling, training or planning.

“I got a whole bunch of guys sitting on their thumbs right now,” Jackson said.

Later, Jackson said the statement was an “over-embellishment,” a way to entice the general to call more often for help from the Americans.

Even so, Jackson said, the pace will continue to decline, especially after June 30.

“We’ll still go out,” he said of future patrols with the Iraqi army.

“But not every time.”

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