Local News

Rumsfeld Visit Brings News Of Another Deployment

Posted December 18, 2003 11:41 a.m. EST

— About 2,200 Fort Bragg soldiers will head to Iraq in a couple of weeks, the military said on Thursday.

Right now, more than 20,000 soldiers from Bragg are deployed -- most of them in Iraq. The news of another round of deployments came Thursday -- the same day Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited troops on post and at Pope Air Force Base.

There was no word on where in Iraq the troops would go for the four- to six-month mission.

The soldiers are from the 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne, a mixed brigade of 2nd and 3rd battalions of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the second battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

One of the highlights of Rumsfeld's visit Thursday was watching soldiers from the 1st Brigade practice live-fire exercises.

"They're fully combat ready and capable to execute whatever missions they're directed to execute," said Lt. Col. Billy Buckner, of the 18th Airborne Corps.

The 1st Brigade returned from Afghanistan in April. They plan to leave for Iraq after the holidays.

Rumsfeld said more soldiers are needed to help Iraqis develop their own police force and flush out terrorists the way troops tracked Saddam Hussein.

"It's something that happened on a day, but it is not something that happened only on that day," Rumsfeld said of Saddam's capture. "It was a terrific piece of work over a sustained period of time."

But with the holidays approaching and casualties mounting, deployment is a hard sell.

"We appreciate them and what they do for the country," Rumsfeld said of the troops. "And the country's lucky we have people like that.

"We have precision weapons, and we have precision human beings."

Rumsfeld did not discuss the exact roles Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base are playing in the war, saying only that the men and women who fight still have a lot of work to do.

This was not Rumsfeld's first visit to Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base. He toured the installations once before, right after 9-11.

Rumsfeld reportedly signed the deployment order Wednesday night. Pentagon officials, who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity, said the deployment was deemed necessary to maintain continuity during the rotation of forces, which runs from January to May.

There likely will be more changes to the overall rotation plan in the weeks ahead, the officials said.

Officials also said the decision to send the 1st Brigade was related to a requirement for more extensive training of an Army National Guard unit -- the 81st Infantry from Washington state - than originally planned. The 81st is now scheduled to deploy to Iraq in March instead of January.

There are roughly 131,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and once the rotation is complete in May there are expected to be about 110,000.

Rumsfeld said the role of U.S. forces in Iraq now that Saddam has been captured is "to assure the security of the country."