Soldiers' Wives Want Hubbies Home

Ellen Peterson sits in her 2003 Chevy Trailblazer Monday June 16, 2003 in the driveway of her Ft. Stewart, Ga. home. Her husband, whom she asked not to be named, is currently serving with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq and is one of the division's soldiers that was expected to redeploy home shortly after the war. Peterson says ``They need to be out of there, because I don't believe it's safe."
During the war in Iraq, the Army's 3rd Infantry took more casualties than any other military division. Now, with the heavy combat all but over, many wives angrily say their battle-weary husbands need to come home.

Once the picture of pride and patriotism during the war, the wives are arguing that the soldiers who did the killing should not have to do the peacekeeping.

"They need to be out of there, because I don't believe it's safe," said Ellen Peterson, the wife of a 3rd Infantry sergeant who was deployed in January from the division's base at Fort Stewart in Georgia.

The Army's decision to assign new missions to more than 16,000 of the division's troops has hit hard in this military town. After six to 10 months in the desert, wives say, the men are mentally and physically exhausted.

"A lot of people felt like if you didn't support the war, you didn't support the troops," said Peterson, a 42-year-old financial analyst, who asked that her husband's name not be used. "I had to tell someone — I've supported my husband for 16 years. I don't have to support the policies."

U.S. commanders have said they tapped the 3rd Infantry to crush pockets of Iraqi resistance and keep order because of its fighting reputation. The division specializes in desert warfare and has experience with peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo in 2000 and 2001.

"I know it's hard on the families," Maj. Gen. Buford C. Blount III, commander of the 3rd Infantry, said June 3 from Baghdad. "We got a mission to do over here, we're continuing to do that mission and it's changing."

He said his troops should be home by the end of August, earlier if possible.

Thirty-five members of the 3rd Infantry have died in Iraq; the most recent death was on May 8, when a soldier was shot while directing traffic on a bridge in Baghdad.

With attacks against U.S. troops a daily occurrence, some 3rd Infantry soldiers themselves are questioning their role.

"We need to pull these guys out and put some other troops in here who are trained for peacekeeping, because our first impulse is to kill," Sgt. 1st Class Eric Wright said in Iraq. "My guys question why we are going from warriors to peacekeepers, because the belief in what was told to us was that we would fight and win and go home and that someone else would do this."

After President Bush declared the heavy fighting over last month, the soldiers' families hurried to prepare for their homecoming. They made banners out of bedsheets and circulated an e-mail telling them to stop sending letters overseas as of June 1 because the men would be home before the mail reached them.

Then they learned on May 29 that most of the 3rd Infantry soldiers would be staying through August.

A number of wives have dashed off bitter letters to their congressmen, saying their husbands are too exhausted to fight and should be replaced by fresh new troops. Others say they feel soldiers and their families were misled about the troops' return.

"It's aggravating, frustrating," said Shanelle Stenson, whose husband, Spc. Tyuan Stenson, had hoped to take their young sons to Florida next month. "We're all making banners and planning vacations for July in Disney World. It's like a slap in the face. It hurts."

Toya Hadden, 25, said she has had a rough time taking care of her three children: ages 5, 3 and 17 months — by herself. Hadden's doctor put her on anti-depressants when her husband, Sgt. Terrance Hadden, deployed.

"I'm on Zoloft. My nerves are bad having to deal with my kids and all the finances," she said. "My mind keeps going to how they're being treated out there and all the uncertainty of when they're coming home."

She added: "I know some wives who are on Prozac. We sit there and compare which anti-depressant we're on."

Some wives are dealing with their disappointment by lowering expectations.

Luann Hoyseth set up a calendar to count down to her husband's return from 365 days, the maximum time allowed by his January deployment orders.

Her husband, 1st Lt. Colin Hoyseth, later wrote to say he would be home by July 1. Then he wrote to move the date to June 15. But now, Hoyseth has returned to her 365-day countdown.

"Yeah, the 3rd Infantry are the ones who fought the most of the war and they should be coming home," Hoyseth said. "But they're also the most trained for what's going on over there. So they need to stay and finish the job."