On the roof of their small outpost less than 30 miles north of Baghdad, Spc. Matt Graham and Spc. Zack Lindsley share Fritos and cheese dip during their guard shift.
They watch the sunset and reflect on their year-long tour in Iraq. Their views offer a small window on the attitudes of US soldiers as generals and politicians in the US debate how much longer American troops will be in Iraq.
These two men have seen one Army buddy die and at least six others sent home with serious injuries. Both are close to going home too, and they are ready.
At their tiny outpost, Army Specialists Graham and Lindsley have limited access to the news, so they've only heard the occasional headline about Iraq. But like most "boots on the ground" here, they say they don't need news reports to understand US forces aren't leaving Iraq soon.
Graham and Lindsley's unit, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, arrived in Iraq's Diyala Province nearly a year ago. Part of the province was handed over to an Iraqi Army brigade. US commanders planned to continue the US troop reduction by leaving one battalion – a third of the brigade – to control the entire province. But the entire American brigade today remains stationed here and is being replaced by a US unit of comparable size.
Recently, a rumor circulated through the brigade that the entire unit would re-deploy to Iraq within 11 months of their homecoming. The Army would initiate a "stop loss," extending soldiers' contracts in what many have called a "backdoor draft." The stop loss requires soldiers slated to leave the Army to stay in for up to a year after their contract ends, ensuring a return to Iraq. The rumor crushed soldiers – many say they are already suffering family problems after multiple deployments.
Though the rumor has since been dispelled, it reflects the concerns of soldiers facing repeated deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Army Sgt. Jesse Trumpore served his first year-long tour in Iraq as part of the initial invasion force. At the end of his first tour, he says, "There was no doubt in my mind I'd come back.... No matter how much the Pentagon folks wanted to say that this was going to be a short-term thing."
With less than a week left of his second tour and at least six more years in the Army, Sergeant Trumpore is certain that he'll return to Iraq a third time. For the time being though, he's more concerned about his marital problems that started during the deployment.
Mons soldiers interviewed seemed to face the prospect of return deployments with dutiful indifference. Specialist Lindsley, finishing his first tour in Iraq, expresses his frustration with people who join the Army and then complain about getting deployed to Iraq. "If you joined the Army after 2001, you knew" you were going to war, he says.
He's not eager for multiple tours in Iraq, but he accepts it. "It doesn't matter to me if we come back [to Iraq]," says Lindsley. "If we come back, we come back and I'll do my job."
Even some of the Army's disaffected soldiers have accepted the possibility of future Iraq redeployments and stop losses. Specialist Graham won't hesitate to tell you about his hatred of the Army and jokes about taking up cross-dressing to avoid staying in any longer than necessary.
But if it comes down to a second tour in Iraq, he says it's best not to complain. "I just want to do my time and get out," he says.