By Matthew Hay Brown and Steve Kilar, The Baltimore Sun
9:10 PM EDT, October 21, 2011
Dorothy Lee says it will be good to get her grandson back home from Iraq. But the Havre de Grace woman will believe it when she sees him.
In the months since Pfc. Christopher Hine left for Contingency Operating Base Adder in southern Iraq, Lee has heard conflicting information about when the Maryland National Guard member will return.
To her, the announcement Friday by President Barack Obama that all U.S. troops are to be withdrawn by the end of the year was just another potentially erroneous report. When Lee spoke to Hine on Wednesday, he said nothing of coming home.
"I don't know exactly when he will be back," said Lee, in whose home Hine lives while stateside. "I look for him to come home sometime, but I don't know when."
Officials had little more information about what Obama's announcement would mean for the 300 Maryland National Guard members now in Iraq.
"Things are pretty simple for us," spokesman Lt. Col. Charles S. Kohler said: They wait for a command, he said, and then execute it.
As of Friday, the guard's orders remained unchanged. In addition to Hine's 1729th Forward Support Maintenance Company, Maryland units with elements now in Iraq include several companies of the 2-224th Assault Helicopter Battalion, stationed north of Baghdad; a network support company of the 1204th Aviation Support Battalion; and an air traffic control company of the 1-111th Aviation Battalion.
One hundred and twenty members of the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade were mobilized at the beginning of September for deployment to Iraq, but the majority remain at Fort Hood, Texas, waiting to be sent.
Kohler said it was unclear how Maryland soldiers would be affected.
"We need to realize that a number of things could happen," he said. "They could be redirected to another location. They could serve the term of their deployment in Kuwait, or they could be directed to come back home.
"We really don't know at this point, and we don't want to get into speculation because that can get people's hopes up, and we don't want to mislead anybody or set expectations that are not going to come true."
A spokeswoman at Fort Meade referred questions Friday to the Pentagon. A spokesperson at Aberdeen Proving Ground could not be reached for comment.
At least some of Maryland's representatives in Washington welcomed Obama's announcement.
As a member of the House, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin voted against the resolution that authorized the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
"We can't change the past, but after years of calling for a new and more thoughtful approach, President Obama delivered on his pledge to withdraw our military from Iraq in a safe and stable manner," the Maryland Democrat said in a statement. "The Iraqis can now take responsibility for the security and sustainability of their own nation."
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings said he still believes "it was the wrong war at the wrong time."
"However," the Baltimore Democrat continued, "our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and Coast Guardsmen have done our nation proud. The excellence shown by our military has proven, yet again, that they are second to none. … I welcome home our brave servicemen and women, and hope that they will never again be separated from their families by violence and war."
Col. Sean M. Casey, the chief of staff of the Maryland National Guard, said the announcement Friday was not surprising. Given Iraqi opposition to the foreign military presence, he said, the inability of Washington and Baghdad to negotiate an agreement that would keep U.S. troops in the country beyond the end of the year was predictable.
Casey, who has served 33 years in the military, commanded more than 1,000 Maryland soldiers and many others in Baghdad during President George W. Bush's troop surge of 2007 and 2008.
"Everybody saw that as the beginning of the end," said Casey. "We're almost four years later. … I think a lot of people left part of their lives there, some of them their entire life there."
"On the one hand," he said, "I'm glad America is reaching a closing point on the war. On the other hand, I have a lot of concern about the future of Iraq."
Tracy Miller, whose son was killed in Fallujah in 2004, said she was "delighted" that U.S. troops will be leaving Iraq. The Towson woman has protested the war at the same time she has helped establish a center for veterans at Towson University, with a full-time veteran services coordinator and "thank you" grants for students who have served since Sept. 11, 2001.
"I think we should never have gone in in the first place," said Miller, the mother of Marine Cpl. Nicholas L. Ziolkowski and an instructor at the university.
"I think about the more than 4,000 [U.S. troops] who were killed in Iraq — my son, of course, among them — and, you know, I read the obituaries, and all of them seem like wonderful people who, had they lived, might have made a difference in the world."
Cardin tallied the costs of the war.
"More than 4,700 Americans and allies — including 72 Marylanders — gave their lives," he said. "Nearly 32,000 were wounded, more than $800 billion were spent, and the sacrifice of the families waiting and worrying at home has been immeasurable."
Casey said it was too early to assume the end of U.S. military involvement in Iraq. He anticipates a permanent presence in the future, as in Germany and South Korea.
"As the president described, there was the hope of Iraq becoming a normal partner, instead of a wartime partner," he said. "This probably doesn't mean we won't have that opportunity down the road."
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