Troops, families mixed over Obama's Afghan surge
By KEVIN MAURER
Originally Published: December 1, 2009 7:22 p.m.
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Battle-weary troops and their families braced for a wrenching round of new deployments to Afghanistan announced Tuesday by the president, but many said they support the surge as long as it helps to end the eight-year-old conflict.As President Barack Obama outlined his plan to send 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan - while pledging to start bringing them home in 2011 - soldiers, Marines and their families interviewed by The Associated Press felt a tangle of fresh concerns and renewed hopes."All I ask that man to do, if he is going to send them over there, is not send them over in vain," said 57-year-old Bill Thomas of Jacksonville, N.C., who watched Obama's televised speech in his living room, where photos of his three sons in uniform hang over the TV.One of his sons, 23-year-old Cpl. Michael Thomas, is a Marine based at neighboring Camp Lejeune. He'll deploy next year to Afghanistan. Another son is in the Navy, and a third recently left the Marines after serving in Iraq.An ex-Marine himself, Thomas said he supports Obama's new strategy, but wishes the president had moved more quickly."It is too late," Thomas said. "They should have already been gone."Military officials say the Army brigades most likely to be sent as part of the surge will come from Fort Drum in New York and Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Marines, who will be the vanguard, will most likely come primarily from Camp Lejeune.As the wife of a Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune, where some of the first surge units could deploy by Christmas, Jamie Copeland says she wished the war "would be over and done with."Copeland's husband, Sgt. Doug Copeland, is already scheduled to return to Afghanistan later this fall. She hates to see him go - he just returned from his last seven-month tour in August - and miss more time with their 1-year-old son. But she also concedes that American forces need more help fighting Taliban insurgents."We need to be in Afghanistan," said Copeland, 24. "Our Marines are getting slaughtered out there. I would say we need more out there. Iraq is done."At a doughnut shop near the main gate of Fort Drum, Army wife Theresa McCleod said she worries what Obama's plans might mean for her husband, a soldier in the 10th Mountain Division. She said he's already done a long combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving her to care for their three children."First he was supposed to be pulling everyone out, and now all the sudden he's throwing everybody back into Afghanistan and it's like nobody can really make up their minds," McCleod said of Obama.Obama's plan calls for deploying 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in the next six months, boosting total U.S. forces there to about 100,000. The first waves of Marines are expected to arrive by Christmas, with the rest coming by summer.The president also began outlining an endgame to the war, saying troops would begin pulling out of Afghanistan in July 2011 - though he did not set a timetable for a complete withdrawal.Army Pfc. Jeff Williams, an infantryman with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, said he's "more than ready" to go. He said his unit had trained for Iraq, but the deployment was recently called off. The 23-year-old soldier said he'd like to join the fight in Afghanistan, though his parents might have misgivings."I'm sure they'd hate it, but that's why I got in - to fight the fight," Williams said. "The surge worked in Iraq. If we had a surge in Afghanistan, I'm sure it would work too."At home with her two young children in rural Byron, Ga., Traci Watson hopes the surge does work - and brings a swift end to the war.Her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Dwayne Watson, is midway through a yearlong tour in Afghanistan with the Georgia National Guard's 48th Infantry Brigade, which has 2,400 troops helping to train Afghan security forces. While she's a little concerned the surge could delay her husband coming home around March, she also hopes it means he won't have to deploy again."There's always the worry that his orders might be extended and he might have to help transition between the ones they have coming and the ones that are leaving," Watson said. "But if staying an extra 30 or 60 days meant he wouldn't have to be gone from our family a year later, absolutely."Click here to see AP video of troops' reaction to Afghan surge.