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Commander: 2nd extension not expected

The commander of a brigade that includes local Minnesota National Guard troops expects the unit to leave Iraq by early August. The 34th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team originally expected to return in March after a year in Iraq and si...

The commander of a brigade that includes local Minnesota National Guard troops expects the unit to leave Iraq by early August.

The 34th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team originally expected to return in March after a year in Iraq and six months of training at Camp Shelby, Miss. Its stay was extended after President Bush announced in January a plan to increase troop strength in Iraq.

Col. David Elicerio, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, said in a conference call Monday from Camp Adder, Iraq, that he doesn't expect a second extension.

"There's always the smallest possibility that something terrible could happen here and the nation would need us," Elicerio told reporters. "I think we've got a couple things working in our favor now, though."

One is that federal rules prevent National Guard troops from being on active duty longer than two years, he said. The troops will have been on active duty for about 22 months by August.

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Another is the troop's replacements have been identified and the dates set for their arrival.

"I think we're going to come home on schedule this time, without another extension," Elicerio said.

The possibility of a second extension is in the back of family members' minds, said Krista Colemer, whose husband is in Iraq and who leads a Moorhead group for families of the deployed soldiers. But she doesn't think it's likely, either.

"I think the public outpouring would just be crazy if they extended one more time," she said.

Soldiers and families are starting to get excited. "We see light at the end of the tunnel," Colemer said.

Dates for the Guard members' exit haven't been set, but it's expected to be just before Aug. 1, Elicerio said.

The 1st Brigade Combat Team will leave the country battalion by battalion over a five- or six-day period and stop at a camp in Kuwait before flying to the U.S., Elicerio said.

The soldiers will stay at Fort McCoy, Wis., for about a week before coming home, he said.

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The team's 5,000 soldiers include about 2,600 Minnesota National Guard members. Its 2nd Combined Arms Battalion of the 136th Infantry is based in Moorhead.

If the Army sticks to the current timeline, the 1st Brigade Combat Team will spend the most consecutive days of any brigade assigned to the Iraq theatre, Elicerio said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Andrea Domaskin at (701) 241-5556

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