The New Third ID: Back to Iraq - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

04/30/04

The New Third ID: Back to Iraq

Remember watching the beginning of the war with Iraq, as Hinesville's Third Infantry Division lead the way to Baghdad? We also remember the emotional homecomings as the troops returned. Now, the soldiers are preparing to go back.

WTOC spent some time with Fort Stewart and Hunter soldiers at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. They want to be as prepared as they can be. They say it's the same place, same heat, but different climate.

For years, soldiers from Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield have used the National Training Center. They used it to get acclimated to the harsh conditions of the desert before they head to the Middle East. One year after fighting a war in Iraq, many say it is something they'll never forget.

For some it is surreal to face the NTC after Operation Iraqi Freedom. "We came home, got used to the climate and all the luxuries of home, so now we're back out here in the desert climate and it helps you get back in the mindset you need," said Sgt. Aubry David.

"The dust is the same, the weather is the same," said SSgt. Tyrone Powell. "The [simulated] attacks were not so similar to what was in Iraq. The attacks here are more strenuous. They're bringing everything we could expect from every angle. They're doing a great job keeping us on our toes."

The Army has already given Third Infantry a timetable: expect to be back in Iraq late this year or early next. Spec. Joseph McGraw told us, "We are going back and if anything, the situation dangers have grown. The soldiers over there maybe have gotten complacent and some of the soldiers going there don't need to be complacent over there."

While the physical conditions in Iraq will be similar to what they've seen at NTC, the political climate has changed there since their last assignment. "There still are people that do want to hurt us, so I keep that in mind while I'm at NTC and I look at the opposing force that they want to hurt us," said Spec. Christopher Jones.

Soldiers from the 2nd Unit of Action know they'll face a different kind of war when they return to Iraq, and this one may be tougher. Last time, the enemy was straight ahead and a more clearly defined target. This time, they face the challenge of helping bring the peace instead of toppling a dictatorship.

That includes protecting themselves as they carry out their day-to-day routine: "Being able to secure ourselves, secure our convoys, secure a small element moving," said Spec. Jones. "So we're working on those, so no soldier goes unchanged."

With the Iraq's evolution expected to take years, not months, soldiers figure the upcoming tour of duty there is probably not their last.

Commanders of the Third Infantry have their warning orders that they will probably be deployed to Iraq somewhere between the fall of this year and the first of 2005. They haven't given a timetable when they'll decide if the rest of the Army switches to the unit of action system.

While we were talking with soldiers at the NTC, there was some question if the Army adopts the unit of action system, could the designation for divisions be changed? If so, the tradition and history for each--especially the Third Infantry--would be retired.

Reported by: Dal Cannady, dcannady@wtoc.com

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