Marne Soldiers Will Be Home by September, DoD Official Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 15, 2003 Soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division will be home "by September," DoD officials said.
The 3rd Brigade of the Rock of the Marne division is already on its way back to Fort Benning, Ga., Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said today.
For the unit's remainder, the intention is still to have them back to their Fort Stewart, Ga., home station by the fall. "Right now, the thinking remains that this division will be coming home by September," Di Rita said.
Details of the redeployment of the division are being worked through, he said. He said that U.S. Central Command chief Army Gen. John Abizaid "still believes that ... the general timeline to have people home by September makes sense."
Di Rita said no one can give specific dates for the return of specific division units. Central Command and service officials are working hard to devise a fair rotation policy that will give CENTCOM the necessary number of troops and not overextend the military contingent.
Di Rita said the number of coalition troops in Iraq should remain constant - at about 160,000. The number of U.S. troops in Iraq now is around 145,000, said DoD officials. That number may rise or fall depending on the situation on the ground, they said.
If operations pick up and there are more attacks on U.S. forces, then the number may increase. But if coalition countries come through with more troops - two coalition divisions are expected in August and September - or more power can be turned over to Iraqi officials, then the number of U.S. troops required in the country may drop.
Di Rita said 19 countries have forces on the ground in Iraq and the United States is talking with 19 others to provide forces. He stressed that these numbers will change.
Di Rita said that there is some uncertainty and that the 3rd Infantry Division's commander Maj. Gen. Buford Blount does not want expectations in the division and for families back home to "get too elevated beyond the broad point, which is we'll have these folks home by the fall." Di Rita said DoD, the Army and the division will do everything possible to keep the families informed.
Di Rita also noted Marine forces will probably stay in Iraq in some capacity. There are currently 24,000 Marines in the country, Marine Corps officials said. Gen. Michael W. Hagee, Marine Corps commandant, said in congressional testimony he expected the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force to leave the country in September. Officials would not comment on whether other Marine units might replace that unit.
Di Rita said commanders are also thinking of rest and relaxation areas for the troops. "I know that the commanders feel strongly that it's important ... to keep their eyes closely on quality of life for the troops in Iraq, and R&R is an element of quality of life," he said.
The redeploying brigade has several units already moved to Kuwait. These include the 3rd Brigade Combat Team; Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Division Artillery; 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery; Headquarters and Headquarters Co., 4th Bde. (Aviation); 1st Bn., 3rd Aviation; Co. K, 159th Aviation; Co. D, 1st Bn., 58th Aviation; 11th Engineer Bn.; and 92nd Chemical Co.