FORT STEWART, Ga. — Soldiers at Fort Stewart got their second reminder this month that they’re still at war despite the recent U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, when the Pentagon announced Thursday the southeast Georgia post’s top general and his command battalion of 700 troops will deploy to Afghanistan this summer.
The news came just two weeks after the Army tapped two other Fort Stewart battalions for tours in Afghanistan. The three units – totaling about 2,200 soldiers – will be the first ground troops from the 3rd Infantry Division to deploy to Afghanistan after serving four combat tours in Iraq.
Maj. Gen. Robert A. Abrams, the 3rd Infantry commander, told reporters Thursday that soldiers and their families had known their wartime service wasn’t over just because the U.S. had pulled its forces from Iraq at the end of last year.
“They have given so much that they understand that our Army and our country is still conducting combat operations,” Abrams said at a news conference. “And they knew that the call would come at some point.”
The battalion made up of Abrams’ command staff and support soldiers is scheduled to deploy in August to Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, where the general will command U.S. forces and their NATO allies in the country’s southern region. They are scheduled to be overseas for a year.
Two other Fort Stewart battalions will deploy ahead of them. About 800 troops from the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, are to leave in February and will provide security for other military units tasked with improving stability in Afghan villages.
In April, about 700 Fort Stewart soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment are scheduled to follow. They will join with members of a Stryker armored-vehicle brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., that is conducting counter-insurgency operations and helping train Afghan security forces.
The 3rd Infantry was among the U.S. forces that led the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein. Its troops returned in 2005, 2007, and for a final fourth tour spread between 2009 and 2010.
The recent deployment orders for Afghanistan cover only about 10 percent of the 3rd Infantry’s total manpower – about 22,000 soldiers, including a brigade of about 4,000 troops stationed at Fort Benning.
Abrams said other units in the division will be training to be ready for further possible deployments, though none have received orders.
“I don’t have any specifics on what might occur,” Abrams said. “I just know that our task at hand is to be ready whenever they do call.”
The general’s headquarters battalion had been scheduled to start a final tour in Iraq in November.
That deployment was called off after President Obama announced all U.S. forces would leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
Given the time and money spent training his troops, Abrams said it made sense for the Army “to insert us into the batting order” for Afghanistan.