GIEBELSTADT, Germany — Tuesday night's e-mail spread the dreaded news quickly
across the home front in Giebelstadt: one year from the date their husbands
deployed to Iraq, the men of the 3rd Battalion,
158th Aviation Regiment still
will not be home.
"This is the worst news," said Jessica Corey, 29, whose husband flies Black
Hawk helicopters for the unit. "Besides being absolutely stunned, we're
completely heartbroken, too."
The Pentagon announced this week that 1,500 soldiers, National Guardsmen and
reservists would be forced to stay in Iraq beyond their one-year rotation
dates. About 1,000 of them come from Europe. More than 600 of those soldiers
belong to two units from Giebelstadt: the 3/158 Aviation, a UH-60 Black Hawk
unit; and the 7th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, an aviation maintenance
"Everyone's having a hard time with this last bit of news," said Jennifer
Groncki, 28, wife of a 3rd Battalion pilot. "People are very upset. They feel
like the end was in sight. Now it's been taken away."
The 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion, which is headquartered in
Wiesbaden, Germany, is among the units being extended.
"They all seem to understand," said Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joe Monroe,
the 302nd rear detachment commander. "I think we have a great bunch of guys.
They understand it's mission first."
The unit deployed down range in mid-to-late February 2003. The return date is
still very much "a moving target," Monroe said.
Other U.S. Army Europe units from Germany affected include: the 19th Combat
Support Center from Wiesbaden; the 27th Transportation Battalion, with units in
Hanau and Bamberg; the 71st Corps Support Battalion, from Bamberg; and the
181st Transportation Battalion, from Mannheim. All of them deployed to Iraq
between January and March 2003.
Thousands more soldiers just missed a similar fate. A Pentagon spokesman, who
requested anonymity, said U.S. Central Command at first sought permission to
extend at least 50 units beyond their first anniversary. The Department of
Defense pared the list by more than three-fourths.
The Pentagon's efforts to limit the impact to a few units comes as little
consolation to people like Valerie Belgrave, 30, who has spent only two months
with her husband — Chief Warrant Officer 2 Benito Belgrave, also a 3rd
Battalion Black Hawk pilot — in the past three years, through his 18 months of
flight school and now one-year-plus in Iraq.
To their 2-year-old son, Nathaniel, Daddy is a stranger.
"[The boy] doesn't know my husband," Valerie Belgrave said. "He's like a
Carla Aikens, 34, and her 4-year-old daughter, Taylan, had been marking off
the days on a calendar until March 20, when Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kevin
Aikens finally would come home. Now, she doesn't know what to do.
"In the summer, we finally had a date," Aikens said. "This is very hard for [Taylan]
Rumors of the extension had flown around Giebelstadt the past several weeks,
several wives said, but they followed the advice of both their Family Readiness
Group leaders and their husbands to disregard them. As recently as last week,
the battalion commander had e-mailed spouses assuring them that the March 20
return date still looked solid.
That's what made this week's news all the more stunning. The e-mail didn't
explain why the troops would have to stay longer nor how long, though Pentagon
officials have since said the units will stay between five and 60 extra days to
bridge gaps caused by the enormous transfer of troops in and out of Iraq this
"We deserve to be told the truth," Corey said. "We're big girls. We can
The wives said their husbands have accepted the news stoically. Steeped in
the Army tradition of a soldier's duty, they are trying to do the same.
"Suck it up and drive on — if you're an Army spouse, that's what you've got
to do," said Mena Sawyer, 30, also a 3rd Battalion pilot's wife. But, she
added, "We were promised, more than once, that it would definitely not be more
than 365 days. [The Army] always promises things, and they don't follow
Many wives can quote from memory U.S. Army Europe Commander Gen. B.B. Bell's
pledge in one command message last August: "Soldiers and their families can
count on no more than a 1-year deployment to [Iraq] for the current rotations."
"At least my husband is safe — relatively — and, eventually, he will come
home," Corey said. "But I want to know that it won't happen again.
"The guys are just physically and mentally exhausted. That's not the way you
treat your best assets.
"They need to come home."
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