The Fogginess of War
While politicians debate, the troops pack up and head off
It is one of many adjustments that Odierno anticipates in the months ahead. Some will come from, as they say, above his pay grade, including recommendations expected next month from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, also has convened a commission of military commanders to look into new strategies. According to U.S. News sources, the commission is examining, for example, ways to provide support to local leaders in the face of continued Iraqi government failure to deliver on promises of resources, particularly in Sunni areas. Abizaid testified that commanders are also looking into possibilities of both troop surges and phased troop withdrawals. These outcomes "are hard to predict-and have so many implications," says Odierno. The operational portion of his job, he adds, hinges on "what we are going to decide to do politically-and what the Iraqis want to do politically."
And perhaps the biggest political factor of all is time. During testimony last week, Abizaid was asked how much time remained until violence in Iraq reached the tipping point, beyond the control of the Iraqi government. He answered "four to six months." It seems, another congressman later quipped, "that we're always hearing that the next few months are critical."
But for few is that more true than soldiers at Fort Hood, where for the past three months the post gymnasium at the largest military base in the country has been the site of tearful and tough goodbyes as soldiers prepare to leave their families for one year-and joyful reunions as soldiers from the division they are replacing, the 4th Infantry Division, return home.
Maj. Joe Edstrom is on his way to Baghdad, his second tour there. He is headed to a country he knows is "drastically different" from the one he left 16 months ago. And he is leaving one that has changed, too. Edstrom's wife, Tina, 29, worries about "all of the negativity" surrounding the war, particularly these days. But he adds, as conditions have become more dire since his first tour, "I feel more of a drive of purpose." His wife looks at him as she gently rocks her toddler. "He's very brave," she says. "But that doesn't mean it's not heartbreaking when he leaves and [that] you don't suffer for it. Your husband comes back a different person. And you're a different person."
Across the gym, Sgt. 1st Class Ricardo Padron, a military intelligence specialist, is sitting on the gym bleachers alone, his mind, he says, already on another place. Padron has served in Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan, where he nearly lost 2