Iraq Situation Will Determine Homecoming Date

Yellow ribbons at the base await soldiers' return.
Yellow ribbons at the base await soldiers' return.

Third Infantry soldiers made their families and communities proud when they helped bring down a dictator and pave the way for democracy in Iraq. Now those loved ones want to know when their soldiers are coming home. It's what everyone in Hinesville talks about. Some people claim to know an exact date. Others wish they had a better idea. Today, we found the answer isn't that easy.

Audrey Smith deals with the public all day as a Heritage Bank receptionist. As a military spouse, everyone asks when her husband is coming home from Iraq.

"I get it from my neighbors and friends, family and from church," she said. "Everyone wants to know the same question and the same answer is I don't know."

Since President Bush declared Saddam Hussein removed from power and the conflict over, Hinesville and its families have waited to see soldiers return. In the last few days at WTOC, we've gotten dozens of emails. Some of them anxious, some of the frustrated. But all of them want their soldiers home. At Fort Stewart, commanders say the soldiers have been needed beyond the battle.

"We have to leave behind a stable and secure environment so that many other organizations can take part of addressing the needs of Iraqis," said Col. Edwin Marrero, chief of staff for the division's commander.

The Third Infantry Division has nearly 18,000 troops in the Middle East. Marrero says they could begin returning between August and October, depending on what happens there. Audrey Smith says families must accept that kind of uncertainty.

"Waiting is part of being a military spouse," she said. "Not knowing is part of being a military spouse."

Col. Marrero says the Army won't keep soldiers away from home any longer than necessary. He says his office gets at least a dozen calls a day from family around the country wanting to know when troops are returning, adding that events over there in the next two or three weeks will dictate whether soldiers return sooner or later. When we find out they're scheduled to come home, it will take about ten days for the first troops to arrive. From there it could take about six weeks to get all of them here.

Reported by: Dal Cannady,