In endorsing Gen. David Petraeus's recommendations on Iraq, President George W. Bush said Thursday night that at least 21,500 U.S. combat forces, plus support troops, could leave Iraq and come home by next July. Curiously, the first military unit designated by Petraeus to return is the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit based at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, Calif., north of San Diego.
But the 13th MEU, a support unit that has been in Iraq on its current tour for about three months, was already scheduled to return home from Iraq on Nov. 17. Their new date of arrival under the drawdown plan? Still Nov. 17. Other Marine units have been in Iraq as much as three times longer than the 13th MEU, and some active-duty Army soldiers are serving 15-month tours, the longest of the war. Relatives of the 2,000-member 13th MEU, most of whom have known for more than a month that the unit was coming home, are collectively a bit confused by the inclusion of the 13th MEU in the announcement of troop cuts, and some are even angry.
"I think General Petraeus is using normal circumstances and turning them into some kind of big deal," says Melissa Hurt, 24, wife of a 13th MEU Sgt. Andy Hurt, 24. Originally from Minnesota, the couple has been married for four years and they have a 9-month-old son. "I don't understand how this can be called a troop reduction since Andy was already scheduled to come home in November and was not scheduled to return to Iraq. There are guys who've been in Iraq for more than a year. They should bring them home first. I know my husband agrees with me."