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Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez’s official parking space at his Heidelberg, Germany, V Corps headquarters remains empty Tuesday. Top leaders decided to leave Sanchez in command of forces in Iraq, even as the rest of his staff returns home to Germany.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez’s official parking space at his Heidelberg, Germany, V Corps headquarters remains empty Tuesday. Top leaders decided to leave Sanchez in command of forces in Iraq, even as the rest of his staff returns home to Germany. (Jon R. Anderson / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — After more than a year in the Middle East, V Corps has all but returned home to Germany, but without its commander, deputy commander and top enlisted soldier.

V Corps oversaw the planning and invasion of Iraq and has provided the nucleus for the occupation headquarters, Combined Joint Task Force-7, in Baghdad ever since.

But with military leaders trying to limit unit combat tours to one year, V Corps troops were already overdue when they began returning to Heidelberg over the past few weeks.

The V Corps staff had a transfer of authority ceremony Feb. 1 in Baghdad, handing off their duties to the Fort Hood, Texas-based III Corps. However, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who has commanded V Corps since April, has remained in place as the top commander of forces in Iraq. That has put the III Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, in the No. 2 military slot in Iraq, working as Sanchez’s deputy.

Pentagon officials are still mulling plans to upgrade the top military post in Iraq to a four-star billet, said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Gary Keck, but added, “I am unaware that a decision has been made yet.”

While the Pentagon brass hammers those plans out, Sanchez remains in charge.

“Until such time a decision is made either to create a four-billet or he leaves,” said CJTF-7 spokesman Lt. Col. Dan Williams, Sanchez “is clearly continuing as the commander of CJTF-7.”

Meanwhile, the V Corps deputy commander, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, is in Kuwait overseeing the swap out of forces now under way in the region. Officials say he’ll likely remain there until May.

With V Corps preparing for its official welcome home ceremony on March 19 and Sanchez still in Iraq, plans are in the works to establish an “acting commander” for the corps and its units in Europe, said V Corps spokesman Maj. Dean Thurmond.

Thurmond said it’s unlikely Sanchez will even be able to break away from Iraq for a day to attend the ceremony.

“I think his focus will remain in Iraq,” said Thurmond.

The corps’ chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Daniel J. Keefe, who recently returned from Iraq, currently leads the “provisional” rear detachment command in Heidelberg.

Thurmond said the new acting commander will likely be Wojdakowski or Keefe, but a final decision has not yet been made. Whoever it becomes, he will formally, if temporarily, assume the helm of V Corps during the welcome home ceremony.

“There is no shortage of solid, battle-experienced leaders in V Corps,” Thurmond said.

The same holds true, he said, for the still-vacant command sergeant major’s job at V Corps.

Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth O. Preston served as the top enlisted soldier for the corps until December, when he got the nod to become the command sergeant major of the Army.

Since then, III Corps Command Sgt. Maj. William Gainey has assumed the top enlisted spot in Iraq while the 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade’s senior sergeant, Command Sgt. Maj. Bruce Likens, serves as the acting top enlisted adviser for V Corps.

Thurmond said the “process is under way” to find a full-time replacement for Preston at V Corps, but added a decision has not yet been made.

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