The real impact of the extension of combat tours:
Word of the extension arrived almost by accident here at the rambling villa in the countryside east of Ramadi that the men from Company B, First Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment of the First Infantry Division, have turned into an American-Iraqi military base.
Shortly after midnight, First Sgt. Jody Heikkinen spotted an article about it on the Internet, and the company officers were caught off guard. “We’re trying to figure out what it means,” said Capt. Chris Calihan, 31, the company commander.
The soldiers had been scheduled to return home in June, but the announcement appeared to extend their stay until September.
Among those soldiers who were still awake, there were muffled outbursts of anger and frustration laced with dark humor.
“If I get malaria, I get to leave, right?” Specialist Rodney Lawson, 30, said to no one in particular.
The soldiers wondered if their relationships back home could weather an extension and predicted that divorce rates in the military would spike. They muttered about three additional months of forced celibacy and fretted half jokingly about impatient wives and girlfriends. “Now a lot of cheating be going on,” said Sgt. Jonathan Wilson, 29. “I’m serious.”
Specialist Lawson had planned to take a vacation with his former wife, with whom he has two daughters, after he got back to the division’s home base in Schweinfurt, Germany. They were going to give the relationship another try.
“This has totally wrecked everything I had planned,” he said as he slumped on an empty explosives crate.
“Now I’m never going to get together with my ex-wife,” he said. “I’m scared that the longer it takes, more things could happen.”
The soldiers also worried about the extra months of dodging snipers’ bullets and roadside bombs.
“You only going to get so many chances,” said Specialist Lawson, whose Bradley fighting vehicle has been hit three times by rocket-propelled grenades during this rotation.
By midmorning, as the soldiers mobilized for another day of missions, the harsher emotions gave way to resignation and stoicism.
Help is on the way, fellows.