- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

FORT STEWART, Ga. Infantry troops here, well aware a ground war with Iraq likely would begin with them, are preparing for their imminent deployment to the Persian Gulf by completing wills, praying and, in some cases, celebrating last-minute nuptials.
Home to the two out of the three brigade's in the 3rd Infantry Division, one of few in the Army stocked with Gulf war veterans, Fort Stewart would be on the front line of a war with Iraq.
With nearly 5,000 mechanized infantry troops already in the Kuwaiti desert and another 4,600 with orders to be ready to ship out at a moment's notice, the base named for Brig. Gen. Daniel Stewart, a Revolutionary War hero and Georgia statesman, is abuzz with activity.
"I don't have any worries, fears or anxieties about any of it," said Col. William F. Grimsley, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade, which will deploy to Kuwait sometime in the next three weeks.
"Our job is to deploy and join the rest of the division in Kuwait and continue to train," he said. "Obviously everybody will have some level of anticipation. However, this is the point at which training overcomes everything else most guys are eager to demonstrate their abilities."
The colonel's assurances were reflected in the cool confidence of his troops, who were scrambling this week to get things in order on the homefront breaking leases on their apartments and making sure their credit card bills will get paid while they're gone.
"There's a little bit of anxiousness right now," said Sgt. Kerry Baranek, 41, adding that wives are asking a lot of questions such as how can they get their husband's pay stub while he's gone.
While commanders and senior officers are stealing as many precious moments as possible with their spouses and families, some younger soldiers are stealing a few last kisses from girlfriends or hustling off to declare last-minute wedding vows.
Wedding whirlwind
For Pvt. Jeremy Barrere, 23, word of his pending deployment to Kuwait left him fixated on a life decision as he rang in the New Year with his girlfriend, Amanda, in his arms.
Apparently he wasn't alone: "We just looked at each other and sort of asked each other at the same time," he said, explaining how it came to be that the two were wed on Jan. 2.
"I'm happy I'm deploying because that's why I enlisted in the military," said Pvt. Barrere of Dayton, Ohio. "But I feel like I should have done it maybe a bit sooner, before the deployment because I feel bad leaving her alone right after."
Mrs. Barrere, 22, who will stay in Dayton while Pvt. Barrere is away, was making a last-minute trip to Fort Stewart this weekend to say goodbye.
Others, who already had future marriage plans, bumped the big day up a bit.
"We had picked February, but we decided to do it now. The deployment had something to do with it," Spc. Richard F. Snavely, 23, said of his decision to wed wife, Bobbie, on Dec. 28. The couple met in their hometown of Cocoa, Fla.
Mrs. Snavely, 21, was beaming on Tuesday afternoon, catching as many special moments as possible at her husband's side while he packed his bags. She'll stay with her family in Florida and look for a job while he's gone.
"It's his job and I understand," she said. "It's sad, but it's life. You've got to think about positive things, not negative things."
Ready to roll
Lt. Col. Scott E. Rutter, a battalion commander in the 1st Brigade, says he's "very confident in [my] units' and soldiers' ability to go into this mission, which is perfectly timed."
The 3rd Infantry Division about 15,000 soldiers equipped with M1A1 Abrams heavy tanks, self-propelled artillery and Bradley fighting vehicles is gearing up for what could turn out to be an integral role should the United States go to war with Iraq.
Col. Grimsley, 44, agreed that the timing couldn't be better for deployment to Kuwait. Having returned from a mission in Kosovo a year ago, the brigade spent the summer in weapons training before executing a monthlong desert combat training mission in California.
"Our job is to be prepared to deploy, fight and win decisively and return home, and that's what we do," he said. "This is the armored, heavy rapid deployment unit of the Army. We deploy routinely all over the world. We know how to do this, and we train for this."
Military officials note that the 3rd Infantry Division was a "heavy player" during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and will likely be relied on again. Because of its heavy-armor readiness and its present position as the most-forward-deployed unit to the Iraqi border, the division has been referred to as "the tip of the spear."
Col. Rutter, 40, an intense yet jovial man with a habit of making those around him feel comfortable, fought as a company commander during the 1991 Gulf war. He refers to the upcoming deployment as "the next gig" in what so far has been a colorful Army career that has taken him around the world.
Asked how he feels about returning to the "sandbox," as it is called by most soldiers, Col. Rutter grinned and reflected: "We were the ones up front [during Desert Storm]. Obviously having the opportunity to go back there now as a battalion commander is like a needle-in-a-haystack opportunity.
"I feel honored to have an opportunity to lead America's best," he added.
Rapid deployment ready
With some 60,000 U.S. military forces already in the Persian Gulf region set to double in the coming weeks, deployments from U.S. bases nationwide are being increased significantly.
President Bush has been rallying the troops with energy-packed speeches. At Fort Hood, Tex., last Sunday, he told a cheering crowd: "We are ready. We're prepared Should Saddam Hussein seal his fate by refusing to disarm, by ignoring the opinion of the world, you will be fighting not to conquer anybody, but to liberate people."
Deployments from Fort Stewart started in September when the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade was sent to Kuwait as part of the American military presence held there since the Gulf war. The division's other two brigades are set to go as early as this week, one from Fort Benning in western Georgia, the other from here the largest Army installation east of the Mississippi River.
"Fort Stewart as an entity and where it's positioned is the ideal strategic deployment platform for the United States," said Col. Grimsley, who has travelled extensively within the military since graduating from Davidson College in North Carolina in 1980 with a degree in history.
"We have a great port in the city of Savannah, we have an Army airfield capable of handling every military aircraft in the world, we have the physical infrastructure built here to handle a deployment," he said.
Fort Stewart is home to one of the most rapidly deployable mechanized forces in the world.
Its size about 40 miles wide and 20 miles long and location just southwest of Savannah and the Hunter Army Airfield, make it the premier power-projection platform in close proximity to four deep-water ports on the East Coast, including Jacksonville, Fla.; Brunswick and Savannah, Ga.; and Charleston, S.C.
"If your looking for an ideal place from which to deploy, this is it," Col. Grimsely said.
Ghost town
This is not the first time people in Hinesville, the little town on the edge of Fort Stewart, have watched thousands of troops deploy for duty in dangerous places. But that doesn't mean they're used to it.
"Right now we're devastated. You can already see the changes," said Susan Strickland, owner of Realty Executives in downtown Hinesville, which gets about 90 percent of its business from military personnel stationed at Fort Stewart. She said the number of rental properties available has tripled in the past week.
Businesses in the town of about 30,000 are bracing for the economic slump set to take hold in the coming weeks.
"It's going to be dead around here," said Debbie Johnson, a clerk at Camouflage and More, a military surplus store just outside the fort's main gate. "We always have a line of traffic going in and out of the [gate] It won't be there anymore."
Mrs. Strickland said it's not just renters who are leaving. Some recent house buyers are backing out of deals.
"We got one call recently, where a wife was crying in the background and the husband, who's a soldier, told us he couldn't buy the house because he's being deployed to Kuwait."
Hinesville experienced similar problems in 1991 during the Gulf war.
"This is a military town that lives off the Army," said Capt. Robert Milan, who'll be gone later this month. "It's a great place to have a business when the Army's here, but it's not once we leave."
Mrs. Strickland, who has lived in Hinesville since 1989, said her business has "been bracing for this since September 11, 2001. We knew something like this was coming." But some businesses haven't been so savvy. Mrs. Strickland said several have called, asking to have their monthly rents lowered because they know they won't be able to survive the impending slowdown.
The situation isn't helped by the fact that many spouses of deployed soldiers also are packing up and leaving. Several will move to their hometowns and stay with family and friends, rather than sit and watch Hinesville turn into a ghost town.
Others will do their best to make life feel normal.
"My husband said go home to mom, go home to mom. But I'm going to stay here and work and live," said Holly Carter, 25, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Aaron Carter, is set to deploy with the 3rd Infantry Division.
While Sgt. Carter is gone, Mrs. Carter said she'll stay in Hinesville with Troy, the couple's 16-month-old boy.
"You have to think of it as if they're just going out into the field. You can't worry about it or you will get wigged out," she said. "It's better to stay here and just work and live than try to go somewhere else and stare at the walls."
'Rumor control'
On bases nationwide, spouses are preparing family readiness groups, led usually by wives of commanders and soldiers, for the months of loneliness and stress that lie ahead.
Mobilization deployment program manager Susan Wilder told Fort Stewart group leaders recently that the most important thing to do to limit stress is rumor control.
"Here's one," she said, "I heard we're going to war with Iraq on the 14th of February. Happy Valentine's day, Iraq." Such rumors are not true, she said, explaining that wives should work together to dispel them before they spread.
Family readiness groups, which help wives keep in contact with each other while their husbands are away, emerged during the Vietnam War, when thousands of soldiers were killed or wounded in combat while their families panicked at home with little information.
Col. Grimsley, whose wife, Jan, leads a family readiness group, tells the story of when he was a boy and his father was wounded in combat during Vietnam. His mother was thrown into distress because she couldn't get important information about her husband's condition or location.
"I remember coming home from school in the third grade on the first of April," he said. "We were going to my grandparents' house and I was excited. When I got home, I couldn't figure out why my mother was crying. She told us that my father had been wounded and she didn't know where he was."
The family readiness groups create support havens for wives, helping them connect with rear-deployed officers to get the most accurate information about where their husbands are.
Wives at Fort Stewart said they lead the groups because they want to help each other. Older wives particularly want to help younger ones, coping for the first time with taking care of a baby while their husband is gone for an unknown amount of time.
"We have a lot of new young wives who are interested in getting involved," said Kara Collins, 28, the wife of Capt. Stephen Collins. "A lot are with young babies."

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