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Military Professionals Know Mission Comes First

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2003 – "We can either fight this battle against terrorism at home, or we can fight it abroad," U.S. Army Gen. John Abizaid said July 16. "Our soldiers have to know in their heart of hearts that they've got to fight it abroad."

The new commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom met with Pentagon reporters on the eve of his departure for the Persian Gulf. Abizaid, who assumed command of U.S. Central Command July 7, gave an update on the security situation in Iraq. He also discussed how long troops would remain in Iraq, a question being posed by the public, military family members and the troops themselves.

"It's very important to all of us to make sure that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines know when they're coming home. I know this personally," Abizaid stressed.

"My son was stationed in Korea," he said. "He was told he was coming home in 12 months. Two days before he was to get on the plane, he was told he was going to stay another three months. My wife immediately cried.

"My son-in-law was in Afghanistan. He was told he was coming back in so many months. He got extended two more months, and my daughter cried."

Military professionals, according to the general, understand service to country requires overseas deployments and family separations.

"The most important thing that we face is accomplishing the mission of the nation," he said. Right now, "the mission of the nation is to ensure that we achieve stability in Iraq, and that requires defeating the Baathist threat and defeating the terrorist threat that we're facing now."

There are about 148,000 American and 13,000 coalition troops in Iraq, Abizaid said, and "for the next couple of weeks that needs to be the size of the force. If the situation gets worse, I won't hesitate to ask for more (troops)."

The size of the force needs to be continually re-evaluated, he added. "For a brigade to come out, we need to have an equivalent capability of either U.S. or coalition troops arrive."

Yearlong deployments are possible for certain units to keep the force structure stable until the security situation improves, he added, noting that the individual services establish rotation schedules.

"Looking at what I contemplate being the force levels for a while, probably the next 90 days, we probably need to say to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines: 'Here's the maximum extent of your deployment. If we can get you home sooner, we will.'"

The general pointed out that yearlong deployments are not unprecedented. "First Armored Division went to Bosnia for a year. So we've done it before and we can do it again."

Military officials believed the first units into Iraq, the 3rd Infantry and 1st Marine divisions, would return soon after the end of the war, he explained, "provided that certain expectations were met on the security front."

"All of us were a bit taken back by the complete destruction of the Iraqi army and the near total dissolution of Iraqi security institutions, especially police," he said. "Once we started to understand that environment, we knew that we were going to have to extend people longer than we had hoped."

Two brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division are now slated to leave Iraq by September, he said. One 3rd Infantry brigade has already moved out of Iraq into Kuwait. Abizaid said more details on troop redeployments will be available next week.

The 30-year Army veteran told reporters he's saddened that some service members have complained to the press about their leadership and their mission.

"On the other hand," Abizaid said, "I imagine we can go out and find a lot of troops that are working as hard as they've ever worked in their life, that are experiencing the toughest danger they've ever experienced in their life, and every now and then we've got to look at our young people and understand why they said what they said and then do something about it."

Military leaders take three steps to help service members cope with deployments, Abizaid said. "We improve their quality of life, and we ensure that they know when they're going home. And we make sure we know why they're fighting."

The general said he plans to meet with division and component commanders in Baghdad to ensure that all soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines know what their end dates are. "We need to do it, and we should be able to do it," he concluded.

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