Relief, joy at Fort Bliss after announcement of Iraq withdrawal

U.S. troops coming home early
U.S. troops coming home early

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Story highlights

  • Fort Bliss is home to the Army's 1st Armored Division and has 3,500 personnel in Iraq
  • They'll all be coming home within weeks after Obama announced a troop withdrawal
  • A military spouse says "it was very emotional" when she and others heard the news
  • She and others are happy, while cognizant their loved ones could head to Afghanistan
Since 1848, Fort Bliss has been where U.S. soldiers toil, train and sweat under the strong Southwest sun before departing for battlegrounds around the world.
It has also been where their loved ones grieve upon hearing the worst possible news from the war front -- including in 52 cases over eight years of fighting in Iraq.
Such heart-wrenching returns from that Middle Eastern nation will soon become history. President Barack Obama announced Friday that the vast majority of the more than 39,000 U.S. troops now stationed in Iraq, including about 3,500 from Fort Bliss, "will definitely be home for the holidays."
The decision set off shrieks and tears of joy among family members of the deployed troops.
"Everybody was yelling and screaming and clapping and crying," recalled Denise Young, whose husband, John, deployed in July. "It was very emotional."
Extreme highs and lows are nothing new for military spouses like Young, who is the daughter of a 28-year Marine. Her husband -- a medic for the 4th Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, which is based at Fort Bliss -- has been in the military for five years.
Young said there are plenty of headaches and heartache for her and the couple's children every time her husband sets off for such countries as Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of it stems from suddenly becoming a single parent, and then there's the looming nightmare of possibly never seeing her husband alive again.
"It's always a worry," Young said. "You just have to take it one day at a time."
Like Young, Brooke Trapnell expected the day she could finally breathe -- when her husband, Tyrone, was finally back in her arms -- would come in July. That would have marked 12 months after the husband was first deployed to Iraq.
Trapnell said the separation has been difficult. The rest of her family is 2,000 miles away in Pennsylvania, and she found herself forced to become "the man and the woman of the house" when problems, like a broken toilet, arose.
She believes Obama's decision is the right one. The decision came after talks with the Iraqis about extending the U.S. troop presence broke down over the key issue of legal immunity for American military personnel. The campaign has claimed more than 4,400 American lives and has cost upwards of $700 billion, according to the Department of Defense.
"It's been too long," Trapnell said.
Morgan Herrera doesn't think her husband, Leonardo, should return to Iraq, either. He is a petroleum specialist who deployed for the first time in August, less than a month after arriving at Fort Bliss, which covers roughly 1.1 million acres of land in southern Texas and New Mexico.
"It's been eight years, so I feel like it's about time," she said of the Iraq war.
Herrera added she is "ecstatic" that her husband should be home in time to celebrate his 21st birthday, and she is eager to cook him his favorite meal of pork chops.
But she and other Fort Bliss families know, too, that while their loved ones may not head back to Iraq, that does not mean they won't face more danger.
While thousands of personnel from the army base are now in Iraq, more -- about 5,000 -- are in Afghanistan.
Even as her mind races at "a million miles an hour" in anticipation of her husband's imminent return, Young said she's trying not to lose the perspective that comes with life as a military spouse.
"It's the army," Young said. "You don't know what tomorrow is going to hold. You just do the best you can."
Trapnell said that she's heard some Fort Bliss troops might go from Iraq to Kuwait and eventually end up in Afghanistan. But she said that, for now, she is trying to enjoy the fact that her husband will be home, and cannot bring herself to consider yet that he may be in harm's way again, this time in Afghanistan.
"That's not an option in my mind," she said.