By Debbie Stevenson
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – The first ground combat troops going to Iraq from the 1st Cavalry Division will begin leaving Texas as early as next week, a division spokesman said Wednesday.
The advanced departure dates for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team – as much as a couple of weeks for some soldiers – was due to logistics and flight planning and not the result of deteriorating conditions in Iraq, said Col. David W. Sutherland, the brigade's commander, in an e-mail response.
"There is currently no order that accelerates our 3rd Brigade's deployment timeline to Iraq," Sutherland said.
"Notwithstanding, the brigade is continuously planning for contingencies that support transition into battle space, as well as operations in theater," Sutherland said. "The movement of soldiers is also dependent on available transportation, which at times may cause earlier deployment dates for individuals."
At the division level, the 1st Cavalry's orders were unchanged Wednesday, said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, the division's public affairs officer. He said departure dates could continue to fluctuate for other units as the military begins to move the remainder of the division's 20,000 troops into the Middle East.
Maj. Raul Marquez, 3rd Brigade's spokesman, said his unit remains on the normal route into Iraq, which usually calls for a few weeks' layover in Kuwait to allow the soldiers to acclimate to the desert conditions.
"Right now, the mission will still be as the original one," Marquez said. "We're going into Iraq and going to occupy some battle space."
Marquez declined to elaborate, citing security reasons.
Soldiers who were leaving earlier have been given time with their families, Marquez said.
"The units are allowing block leave. They were doing that as units," Marquez said.
The 1st Cavalry is scheduled to relieve Fort Hood's 4th Infantry Division, which is scheduled to complete its year patrolling Baghdad and an area south of the Iraqi capital in December.
About 4,500 troops from the 1st Cavalry's Sustainment Brigade and 1st Air Cavalry Brigade already have left for the Middle East.
Army leaders had hoped to begin reducing the numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq for the new rotation. However, escalating violence in Baghdad and slow political processes had put those plans on hold, said Gen. John Abizaid, the senior U.S. commander in the region, on Tuesday. Abizaid reversed earlier assessments, telling reporters in Washington that the U.S. presence in Iraq would be maintained and possibly increased.
Currently, the military has boosted troop numbers by 20,000, creating a total of 145,000, largely by holding over troops scheduled to return to the United States. The 4th Infantry's troops were not part of the extensions and troops have begun returning to Fort Hood.
Contact Debbie Stevenson at email@example.com