Editorial comments in italics.
Alarming statements in bold.
Savannah Morning News
June 4, 2003
3rd ID 'Can't Leave Until The Mission Is Over'
Commander talks about division's unfinished business in Iraq during video teleconference.
By Noelle Phillips, Savannah Morning News
FORT STEWART -- As the uproar over the 3rd Infantry Division's continued mission in Iraq continues, senior officers spent Thursday explaining the latest developments and addressing concerns about soldiers' welfare.
Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, the division commander, held a video teleconference with local media while Col. Jack Sterling, the chief of staff who just returned from Iraq, met with family members at Fort Stewart.
Mostly, family members feel betrayed because plans were in the works to
bring troops home. Meetings had been held and parties planned. Then, the Department of Defense decided Iraq was too unstable and the division needed to stay.
Now, one brigade is driving toward a hot spot north of Baghdad while two
other brigades continue security patrols in the city.
"I'm not sure how long these missions will last. Some will be two or three
weeks. Some will be longer," Blount said. "We can't leave until the mission is over."
Blount explained the latest mission from a palace near the Baghdad airports while reporters sat in a conference room at Fort Stewart.
For the past six weeks, 3rd Infantry soldiers have patrolled Baghdad to
prevent looting, curb crime, supervise gas distribution and help local
civilians in hospitals, power plants and schools.
Now, the division has handed over responsibility of Baghdad to the 1st
Armored Division out of Germany. The 1st Brigade and 3rd Brigade will help the 1st Armored for now.
Meanwhile, the 2nd Brigade is rolling north to Al Fallujah to crack down on pockets of resistance from former Baath Party members and other militias.
Although the city of 200,000 is considered hostile, Blount said the mission
won't be much different from what the troops have been doing in Baghdad.
"There's not going to be any enemy combat. There's not going to be enemy tanks," Blount said. "We haven't fired a tank in almost eight weeks out here."
While there won't be tank battles, soldiers will remain in a dangerous place where snipers and suicide bombers are still lurking. On May 27, two Iraqis opened fire on soldiers operating a checkpoint there, killing two GIs and injuring nine others.
Blount said he agreed to the new mission because he didn't want the division tied down in Baghdad.
By handing over responsibility of the capital city, commanders hope it will
be easier to leave once the unrest settles, Col. Sterling said.
"We thought it would be easier to extract ourselves from some of these other missions than to extract ourselves from Baghdad," he said.
For now, Blount isn't sure how much longer his troops will be needed in
Iraq, and the decision will be made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Blount estimated troops would be able to come home by August or September.
However, he was reluctant to pin down a date since the original homecoming time line fell apart.
"It is a changing situation," he said. "That's the plan but, as you know,
A few hours after the teleconference, Sterling met with a theater full of
military spouses to answer questions.
Samantha Shirley, whose husband serves in the 2nd Brigade, said she left wanting more answers. The time was limited and very few people got to ask questions, she said.
Family members are worried about the soldiers' morale and mental health, Shirley said.
Blount admitted in his teleconference that morale had dropped when soldiers learned they wouldn't be going home, but said it was taking an upswing since a new mission has been handed out. In psychology, we call that the Hawthorne effect. Any perceived change brings a temporary upswing in morale and productivity, usually, but the effect soon wears off.
Shirley said family members are hearing a different story when they talk to soldiers in Iraq. Something different from propaganda? NO!!!!
"What we're hearing from our soldiers is they'd rather die than spend
another day in hell," she said.
And, reports of the end of heavy combat are misleading to the public, she
said. Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield families know the war is not
"The morale has hit rock bottom on both sides," she said. "We've got a bunch of angry wives here. I'm one of them."
What families want to know
Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, held a
video teleconference with local media to address concerns about the 3rd
Infantry Division's latest mission in Iraq. Here's a glance at what he said:
Latest mission -- The 2nd Brigade is relocating to Al Fallujah, about 60
miles north of Baghdad to weed out lingering pockets of resistance. The 1st Brigade is staying in Baghdad to continue patrols with the 1st Armored Division. The 3rd Brigade is finishing its transition with the 1st Armored Division and is continuing patrols, but Blount hopes its troops soon will return to Fort Benning. Also, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry is heading north to work with the 4th Infantry Division.
Redeployment -- No schedule has been established for bringing troops home.
The 3rd Brigade from Fort Benning most likely will be the first brigade to
return because it has been deployed 12 of the last 15 months. Blount will
not hold units in Iraq just so the entire division can be sent home at once.
As soon as a unit is no longer needed, he will ask permission to send it
home. Redeployment decisions are made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Equipment -- The division's tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles are battle
weary. Working tanks and Bradleys will be taken from the 1st and 3rd Brigades and will be given to the 2nd Brigade so it can move north to Al Fallujah.
Artillery howitzers are being returned to Kuwait. Soldiers in 1st and 3rd
Brigades are conducting patrols in Humvees and trucks. Helicopter demand has slowed since heavy combat ended and many are going through routine maintenance phases. Read: Removing several thousand metric tons of sand from filters
Food and water -- Soldiers received their first fresh meals Thursday. They receive one hot meal a day,What? Like an MRE heater bag? with fresh food being cooked every third day.
Also, there are plenty of the military's Meals, Ready to Eat. Soldiers are
allotted three liters of bottled water a day. They are allowed unlimited
amounts of purified water. Yeah, because MRE's for four f*cking months straight doesn't get old.
Showers -- Field showers and laundry services have been established.OUT-f*ckING-STANDING!
Mail -- Mail service is running and families are encouraged to keep sending letters and packages.
Phones -- Military phone lines are set up, and satellite phones are being
distributed throughout the units. About 30 more should be delivered this
week. Also, the military is working with AT&T to set up a phone bank. Still, there are limited lines available for the nearly 20,000 people who want to call home.
Grossly editorialized to highlight my anger. Oh yeah. We won the war. And when all of our valuable combat veterans leave the service after their terms are up because they're sick of the f*cking bullsh*t, where will we be then? Operations like Haiti, Somalia, and now possibly Iraq can have lots of consequences.