ANCHORAGE - Capt. Seth Smallwood is relieved to be back in Alaska going camping and enjoying time with his wife and three children, but he hasn't forgotten his fellow Stryker Brigade soldiers still in Iraq.
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Sometimes he finds himself wondering what is going on back in Iraq, where fears are increasing that the country is unraveling because of sectarian violence.
"It is just a relief to be back here in the States," Smallwood said Wednesday from Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks. "Being over there and experiencing the situation and how those people live, it makes me more grateful to live where I do."
While the violence appears to have abated somewhat this week, it has been on the rise since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government took office May 20.
The violence is increasing speculation that the remaining members of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, after nearly a year in Iraq, will have to stay longer. Stryker Brigade troops have been helping the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi police with security.
A senior Defense Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Wednesday that portions of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team could see their return home delayed. The official said the proposal had not been presented to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld who has to approve any stays longer than one year. Rumsfeld has approved extensions in the past. Those extensions normally were for a month or two.
Gov. Frank Murkowski said he received a call Wednesday on the likelihood that a decision could be made to extend the deployment of the 172nd Stryker Brigade soldiers.
"Although it is obviously a disruption to the soldiers and their families, affecting more than 4,000 people, it is also gratifying that others have recognized what I have known all along: The Strykers have proven themselves to be one of the most effective forces our country has, and are needed to combat the global war on terror, which in this case means the growing terrorist threat in Baghdad," Murkowski said in a statement.
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