Ga.-Based Army Unit to Serve Third Tour

The Associated Press
Friday, November 17, 2006; 11:04 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which helped lead the charge to Baghdad at the outset of the war, will return next year and become the first Army division to serve three tours in Iraq.

More than 3 1/2 years into the war, the Army and Marine Corps are straining to keep a steady flow of combat and support forces to Iraq while giving the troops sufficient time between deployments for rest and retraining.

Both services are far short of their goal of providing two years between deployments; the 3rd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry, for example, will have spent barely more than 12 months at home when it returns next year. The same is true for the division's 1st Brigade, which officials have said is scheduled to deploy again in January.

The 3rd Infantry, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., is among several units _ totaling 57,000 troops _ identified by the Pentagon on Friday for deployment in a fresh rotation of forces starting in January. The announcement does not presume any change in troop levels, nor is any major change expected for at least several months.

The announcement comes as some congressional Democrats, who are poised to take control of the House and Senate, continue to press for a substantial reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq, and a timetable for that drawdown.

There are about 141,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that he believes troop levels ought to remain fairly steady for the time being, although he said all options are being considered, including a force increase.

Abizaid told the committee that the Army and Marine Corps are not big enough to sustain a substantial increase in Iraq, although he said adding 20,000 troops for a short period was possible.

The Army has managed to keep up its pace of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in part by tapping brigades that have been newly created as part of a top-to-bottom reorganization of Army divisions. The 4th Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, for example, is on the list of units scheduled to deploy to Iraq early next year. That brigade, based at Fort Riley, Kan., was created in recent months and is now at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., for an intensive round of final preparations for the Iraq deployment.

Also selected for the next troop rotation is the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based at Vicenza, Italy. Its paratroopers jumped into Iraq at the beginning of the war to open a northern front, and just last February and March the unit's two airborne infantry battalions returned from a full year of combat in Afghanistan.

The newly formed 4th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, from Fort Lewis, Wash., also is part of the next rotation, the Pentagon said, as is the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, from Fort Bragg, N.C.

Combined, the Pentagon announced a combat force totaling 20,000 soldiers, including the 3rd Infantry Division headquarters. In addition, spokesman Bryan Whitman said a support force of 37,000 troops _ of whom 27,000 are active duty and 10,000 are National Guard and Reserve _ will also deploy in 2007.

They will replace a portion of the current force in Iraq. Additional replacements will be announced next year, Whitman said.

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