SAVANNAH, Ga. — One of the first Army divisions to send soldiers into Iraq more than eight years ago, the Georgia-based 3rd Infantry Division was also scheduled to be one of the last to deploy fresh troops this fall — until President Obama announced Friday he’s bringing an end to the war by the end of this year.
That means 775 soldiers from the division at Fort Stewart won’t be heading overseas to Iraq after all, the 3rd Infantry’s commander, Maj. Gen. Robert Abrams, said Friday.
The Georgia soldiers, all part of the general’s command battalion, had been training for months to deploy this fall despite the drawdown of U.S. forces who were scheduled to leave Iraq by Dec. 31. Discussions between the U.S. and Iraqi governments had left open the question of whether a smaller force of U.S. troops might stay.
Col. Lee Quintas, the 3rd Infantry’s chief of staff, said his troops at Fort Stewart were glad to have a definitive answer that they could cross Iraq off their calendars.
“There’s some feeling of relief in terms of knowing for sure whether or not we were going to go on this mission,” Quintas said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s good to know, one way or the other, for ourselves and our families.”
In March 2003, thousands of 3rd Infantry soldiers rumbled in their tanks and Bradley armored vehicles across the Kuwaiti border into Iraq among the first wave of U.S. soldiers whose push to Baghdad would soon topple Saddam Hussein.
The Army would call on the division to return to Iraq three more times over the next eight years.
Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Trosper returned home to his wife, Nita, and their three sons at Fort Stewart almost exactly a year ago. It was the second time the 39-year-old soldier from Ripley, Tenn., had deployed to Iraq.
Trosper said Friday he’s glad the Iraqi security forces will soon get a chance to be on their own and put to use the training they received from U.S. forces. While he’s uncertain what Iraq’s future will look like after the U.S. military departs, Trosper said he’s certain the country is better off than it was under Saddam.
“I’m not going to necessarily say it’s a victory, based on all the casualties we have,” Trosper said. “But there’s a sense of accomplishment. I know we made a difference in that country.”
Other than the general’s command battalion, none of the division’s four combat brigades, including one based at Fort Benning in Columbus, were facing deployment orders.
Abrams, the division commander, said in a prepared statement that his soldiers who had been training for Iraq would be ready to deploy elsewhere if needed, though no such orders have been given.
“We are the Army’s decisive force for any mission, anytime, anywhere,” Abrams said.
The end of the Iraq war brings to a close a chapter of Fort Stewart’s history that has kept its soldiers on a constant cycle of training for war and deploying overseas since the initial invasion.
Quintas said the division’s soldiers should reflect on their service during those years as a job well done.
“We have invested a tremendous effort and sacrifice over an extended period to come to this conclusion,” Quintas said. “These soldiers have a lot to be proud about.”