June 3, 2008, Savannah, GA – Returning home from 15 months in Iraq, Fort Stewart’s commanding general said Monday adding three months to Army combat tours has proven “more traumatic” for troops — including himself.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re the private or the general, 15 months is a long time,” said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who applauded the Army’s decision to return to 12-month Iraq tours next year.
Lynch, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said spending more than a year separated from their families meant many troops missed several special occasions twice.
Lynch was no exception. His wife celebrated two birthdays while he was deployed.
“From a personal perspective, in those extra three months, you miss two of something,” Lynch after arriving at Hunter Army Airfield on a plane with 265 troops. “In my case, I missed two of Sarah’s birthdays. Some of my soldiers missed two anniversaries. … That made it even more traumatic.”
The 3rd Infantry, which began sending troops home in March, was the first Army division called up for a third tour in Iraq. Its soldiers are also among the first to return from serving 15-month deployments.
Despite the strains, Lynch said the division had no problem reaching its re-enlistment goals while overseas. He said his troops are proud of the progress they see in Iraq.
Lynch commanded a task force of 46,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops as well as thousands of Iraqi police south of Baghdad in an area the size of West Virginia. When they arrived, it was an area rife with insurgents plotting attacks, training recruits and building bombs.
By the time he left, the general said, attacks on civilians in the area decreased by 90 percent.
“We did our job over there against the dirtbags. We killed or captured about 6,000,” Lynch told reporters. “In our area, we went from an average of 25 attacks a day to less than two a day. We took the place called the ‘Triangle of Death’ and we morphed it into the ‘Triangle of Life.”’
He noted that by saying “dirtbags” he was referring to “insurgents that come running around causing trouble,” not the Iraqi people in general.
At the same time Lynch returned to Fort Stewart, about 40 miles southwest of Savannah, about 4,000 soldiers of the division’s 3rd Brigade are having their homecoming at Fort Benning in Columbus. About half the 3rd Infantry remains in Iraq, and the last of its troops aren’t expected back until February.
Lynch, meanwhile, has been nominated for promotion to lieutenant general and expects to take command of the Army’s III Corps at Fort Hood, Texas, later this summer. The Senate must first confirm his promotion to a three-star general.
After 15 long months at war, Lynch said he looked forward to days off with his wife, his children and their Labrador retrievers, as well as a ride on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. But before that, a relaxing soak and a stiff drink.
“I’ll be in the hot tub this afternoon, and I will indeed have my glass of whiskey and my cigar,” Lynch said. “And I’ll be talking to my family.”