- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

FORT HOOD, Texas Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division are coping not only with still being here while their equipment waits on ships off the coast of Turkey, they're faced with the challenge of keeping their fighting skills sharp.
"What you can't do is let frustration get in the way of being ready," said Col. Michael Moody, commander of the division's 4th Brigade.
The 4th Brigade is the division's aviation element. Pilots have been training on flight simulators since their helicopters were packed up and sent to the Middle East more than a month ago.
On Jan. 19, the 4th Infantry Division, including 12,500 soldiers at Fort Hood, received orders to mobilize for deployment as the driving force behind Task Force Ironhorse, a group of more than 30,000 troops from Army installations nationwide.
The orders from President Bush resulted in a fast-paced packing of the division's heavy equipment. Soldiers at Fort Hood spent the final weeks of January scrambling to ship tanks, helicopters and other fighting vehicles overseas, while packing their own bags to await further orders to fly into the war theater.
However, Turkey where Task Force Ironhorse had expected to be sent to establish a base camp for opening a potential northern front against Iraq in the event the U.S.-led coalition moves to invade has refused to allow the United States to use bases in Turkey for an Iraq attack.
The result, some 50 days after mobilizing, is that all of the 4th Infantry Division's heavy equipment is sitting in the Mediterranean Sea outside the Turkish port of Iskenderun.
Turkish parliament narrowly rejected a measure a week ago that would have allowed more than 60,000 U.S. troops to enter the country.
But Turkish politicians, including Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in elections yesterday won a seat in Turkish parliament and is expected quickly to become the country's prime minister, say there likely will be a second push to allow U.S. troops into the country in the coming days.
Meanwhile, troops at Fort Hood remain in limbo. "Clearly there is a level of anticipation as we wait for the decision to be made," Col. Moody said.
The waiting game for commanders and individual soldiers has become psychologically taxing. Many soldiers closed out their apartment leases weeks ago and are living on cots in gymnasiums at Fort Hood. Young fathers and mothers have been expecting to ship out "any day now" for nearly two months.
Two weeks ago, Lt. Melissa Bailey, 25, sent her 8-year-old daughter, Tatiana, and 5-year-old son, Tyler, to live with the children's father in Missouri because she thought she would have shipped out by now.
"Now every day that goes by is a day I could have spent with them," Lt. Bailey said. "I talk to them every night and we read bedtime stories over the telephone.
"I try to explain to them what's going on," she said. "They want to know why I haven't left yet. They watch the news and they know that this country mommy was supposed to go to isn't letting troops in. But they're understanding."
Others, however, are concerned about the risks that come with being away from their equipment for so long. "[Thats] the main frustration," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Davis, 38. "I'd rather be in the desert. … In the desert, at least we'd have the equipment."
During the past four months, the United States has positioned tens of thousands of troops in the Kuwaiti Desert. The troops are running regular training exercises with their heavy equipment in the sand just south of the Iraqi border.
Capt. Mary McLaine, 28, said that waiting the extra time in Texas while the troop build-up continues in Kuwait has been a "two-sided coin." She said she feels lucky to be able to spend the extra time with her family.
Her husband, Capt. Joe McLaine, also is waiting to ship out with the 4th Infantry Division. The couple live outside Killeen.
As the largest U.S. military installation in the world, Fort Hood, about 60 miles north of Austin, is home to a variety of Army units including the 4th Infantry Division and the 1st and 21st Cavalry divisions.
With a population of about 90,000 people, the city of Killeen has a strong military culture. Army surplus stores pepper the main avenues and on any given evening one out of seven customers standing in the crowded check-out line at the city's massive Wal-Mart is wearing Army-issue camouflage.
That will change very soon, the soldiers hope.
"There are times when you're in the Army when you are waiting. You just wait," said Capt. Joe McLaine.
"Yeah, it's frustrating to have your stuff on ships sitting in a port for a month and not know if your going to be there to pick it up or where you're final destination is," he added. "It starts wearing down on morale. It starts wearing down on the keen edge that you want to have when you go into this fight."
But, he said: "There's a lot of pride that we got chosen [to be a part of this mission]."

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