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As many as 10,000 Lewis soldiers in Iraq next year

Post by Scott Fontaine on Sep. 30, 2008 at 1:55 pm with No Comments »
September 30, 2008 1:55 pm

It’s official: I Corps is heading to Iraq next year to take on day-to-day operations.

And the unit that runs Fort Lewis will have two familiar brigades under its command.

The Department of Defense announced the major units in its next rotation Tuesday, and joining I Corps will be the 3rd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division and the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division – both based at Fort Lewis. The announcement likely caught few people by surprise on post, where personnel have expected this decision.

A firm timetable hasn’t been set, but I Corps is expected to arrive in the winter. The two Stryker brigades will arrive during by summer; a more exact time or location hasn’t been determined because it’s not certain which units they will replace, I Corps spokeswoman Maj. Kathy Turner said.

With smaller units also expected to deploy, as many as 10,000 Fort Lewis personnel will be serving in Iraq next year, Turner said.

This will be I Corps’ first combat deployment since the Korean War. 3rd Brigade will make its third trip to Iraq, and this will be the first time 5th Brigade sees combat.

Brig. Gen. Jeff W. Mathis will oversee day-to-day operations at the post during the corps’ absence.

I Corps and its 900 deploying soldiers and civilians will run daily operations of the war from its headquarters at Camp Victory in Baghdad, and corps commander Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby will be second-in-command to Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq.

It will assume command from XVIII Airbone Corps. Jacoby has taken what he’s called "two extensive reconnaissance trips" to work with the unit and help plan for an easy shift of power.

"Our staffs are already in an almost-daily contact with each other," he said. "We will phase in some capability and some staff planning and some operational capability early to make that transition smooth."

And working with two Fort Lewis brigades in theater should provide an advantage for Jacoby and his staff.

"There’s tremendous power in team," he said. "We’ve trained together, worked together, know each other."

Col. Harry Tunnell, 5th Brigade commander, sees a practical advantage to the scheduling.

"I Corps has supported us in all of routine, administrative endeavors, and our training as well," he said. "We’ve built all those relationships across the corps, and I think it’d be a good thing to retain that."

The units – and the military as a whole – are entering a time of relative uncertainty about the future of the Iraq war. Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for the presidency, favors a phased withdrawal of troops to begin shortly after taking office. Republican candidate Sen. John McCain advocates staying in Iraq.

Jacoby said the units will follow the schedule the Department of Defense has crafted, and that he hasn’t been briefed about any changed. And he isn’t working with an assumption that the timelines will change.

"We are not going to overly anticipate what’s going to come in ’09 or ’10 in terms of withdrawals," he said.

Both candidates, though, have favored additional troops for Afghanistan – including a possible transfer of forces from Iraq to bolster the effort. It has been rumored that 3rd Brigade could be sent to Afghanistan, but Tuesday’s announcement effectively ended that idea.

"Right now, we’re not being told to anticipate further shifts," Jacoby said. "That’s really up to Central Command and the next administration to figure out. We’re comfortable with the forces being provided to us and the mission we’ll have. And if the country needs us to go in a different direction, if Centcom needs us to go in a different direction, we’ll be ready to adapt to that."

Off post, several soldiers said Tuesday’s announcement was just a formality to reaffirm something they knew was planned.

Spc. Brandon Cox is preparing for his second deployment. The 5th Brigade soldier previously fought with the 82nd Airborne Division from August 2006-November 2007.

"I went as a light soldier, and now I’ll be going over with bigger vehicles with more armor, so I’ll feel more protected," said Cox, a 21-year-old Spanaway resident. "Now we need to get everything squared away, get more organized."

Pfc. Joshua Sale, also a 5th Brigade soldier, is preparing for his first deployment.

"I’m not nervous at all, not one bit," the 22-year-old said. "I’m actually looking forward to it."

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