By Debbie Stevenson
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – Another 3,500 Fort Hood troops received the official word that they will be heading to Iraq in the coming months, III Corps announced Thursday.
The orders put on notice the 1st Cavalry's final two brigades, the 1st Brigade Combat Team at Fort Hood and the 4th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Bliss.
"With the addition of the two brigades, the entire division is now headed back to Iraq," the III Corps release stated.
The 1st Cavalry is the relief force for Fort Hood's second major command, the 4th Infantry Division, which has headed up the military's Multinational Division-Baghdad since January.
"I'm extremely pleased to have the entire First Team deploying," said Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil Jr., the division's commander. "Our soldiers are trained and ready to take on the task placed before us."
The Pentagon's announcement included two other Army brigades and two Marine regimental combat teams, effectively moving another 25,000 U.S. troops into the region.
"The Ironhorse (1st Brigade) has spent the last year preparing for deployment to whichever theater the senior leadership of our nation deemed appropriate," said Col. Paul E. Funk II. "We are ready and we will prevail."
A division spokesman insisted the 1st Cavalry's orders were not the result of the deteriorating conditions in Baghdad.
"This is not an acceleration of a timetable or a surprise," Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl said.
"It simply means that the remainder of the division is going to go on deployment as we've trained and planned all along," he said. "This rotation is the same plan we've been working when we returned from Iraq the last time."
The division assumed control of Baghdad from the 1st Armored Division in April 2004 and remained there until March 2005, quickly dealing with three bloody uprisings, including Sadr City in April 2004 and the U.S. offensives into Najaf in August 2004 and Fallujah in November 2004.
Earlier Thursday, during a welcome ceremony for Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, his new assistant division commander for support, Fil told 4th Infantry families present that the 1st Cavalry was eager to get its soldiers back to Fort Hood.
"We are looking forward to soon tearing down that banner behind us and putting up a welcome-home banner," he said, pointing to a banner displayed on the wall of the division headquarters that says "Cav's got your back."
For his part, Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, the 4th Infantry's commander, said his division was working hard to pave the way for the 1st Cavalry's return.
"I'm confident we are making it safer for our brothers and sisters in the 1st Cavalry Division," he said after attending a division memorial service July 18 at Fort Hood.
Bleichwehl could not confirm when the 1st Cavalry will assume the Baghdad mission from the 4th Infantry. However, the 4th Infantry is scheduled to return to Fort Hood by Thanksgiving.
The usual overlap, dubbed "right-seat-ride" by the military, is expected. The length of the orientation will be determined by Thurman and Fil, Bleichwehl said.
Moving the division's 18,000 troops into Iraq will be a massive undertaking, Bleichwehl said.
"It's like a movement of a city," he added.
In June, the 1st Cavalry's 1st and 3rd Brigade Combat Teams and the division headquarters received their deployment orders to Iraq. The division's 15th Sustainment Brigade and 1st Air Cavalry Brigade received their deployment orders in November. Also en route to or on orders to Iraq are the 13th Sustainment Command and III Corps Headquarters.
Now joining the 1st Cavalry in Iraq will be Marine Regimental Teams 2 and 6 from Camp Lejeune, N.C., the Pentagon announced Thursday. The 1st Brigade from the Army's Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 3rd Infantry Division was put on standby for a possible deployment, if needed.
A request by commanders in Iraq to extend the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team's 3,500 soldiers who have been in northern Iraq for 120 days also was approved by the Pentagon.
The military also has been moving four companies of military police, or about 400 soldiers, in to Baghdad, and another 400 troops, the remainder of a reserve force that had been in Kuwait, has also gone into Iraq, officials said earlier this week.
Thursday's announcement did not say if the Stryker troops would join the 1st Cavalry in Baghdad. However, President Bush broadly outlined a plan to increase U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad during Tuesday's visit to Washington by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
No details were offered at the time, but military officials indicated it would involve shifting some U.S. forces to the capital from other areas in the country. There were about 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on Thursday, and about 30,000 were in Baghdad before Thursday's announcement.
Speaking under condition of anonymity because the plan was not yet final, two officials told the Associated Press that the goal was to bolster security in Baghdad by teaming U.S. troops with Iraqi police and army units and make virtually every operation in the city a joint effort and indicated the movement of some troops into Baghdad had begun.
All flights out of Iraq for soldiers currently at the end of their deployment were canceled as of Tuesday, as commanders wrestled with the plan and how to supply troops, a third official said.
Despite the biggest security crackdown since the 2003 invasion, violence has increased in the capital since mid-June.
Herald staff writer Emily Baker
and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Debbie Stevenson at email@example.com