A Big Letdown Soldiers Learn Theyâll Be in Baghdad Longer Than Expected By Jeffrey Kofman F A L L U J A H, Iraq, July 16â The sergeant at the 2nd Battle Combat Team Headquarters pulled me aside in the corridor. "I've got my own 'Most Wanted' list," he told me. He was referring to the deck of cards the U.S. government published, featuring Saddam Hussein, his sons and other wanted members of the former Iraqi regime. "The aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz," he said. He was referring to the four men who are running U.S. policy here in Iraq â the four men who are ultimately responsible for the fate of U.S. troops here. Those four are not popular at 2nd BCT these days. It is home to 4,000 troops from the 2nd Brigade of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division. The soldiers were deployed to Kuwait last September. They were among the first troops in Baghdad during the war. And now they've been in the region longer than other troops: 10 months and counting. They were told they'd be going home in May. Then in early July. Then late July. Then last week they heard that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had mentioned them on Capitol Hill. "The 2nd Brigade is â the plan is that they would return in August, having been there something like 10 months," said Rumsfeld. He added: "The services and the Joint Staff have been working with Central Command to develop a rotation plan so that we can, in fact, see that we treat these terrific young men and young women in a way that's respectful of their lives and their circumstances." Solid words from a solid source. Soldiers called their families. Commanding officers began preparations. âI Donât Care Anymoreâ Now comes word from the Pentagon: Not so fast. The U.S. military command in Iraq said Tuesday it plans to complete the withdrawal of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division by September, but officials said they could make no hard promises because of the unsettled state of security in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. "If Donald Rumsfeld were sitting here in front of us, what would you say to him?" I asked a group of soldiers who gathered around a table, eager to talk to a visiting reporter. "If he was here," said Pfc. Jason Punyahotra, "I would ask him why we're still here, why we've been told so many times and it's changed." In the back of the group, Spc. Clinton Deitz put up his hand. "If Donald Rumsfeld was here," he said, "I'd ask him for his resignation." Those are strong words from troops used to following orders. They say they will continue to do their job, but they no longer seem to have their hearts in the mission. "I used to want to help these people," said Pfc. Eric Rattler, "but now I don't really care about them anymore. I've seen so much, you know, little kids throwing rocks at you. Once you pacify an area, it seems like the area you just came from turns bad again. I'd like this country to be all right, but I don't care anymore." Wondering Why What they care about is their families. Sgt. Terry Gilmore had to call his wife, Stacey, this week to her that he wouldn't be home in a few weeks to see her and their two little children. "When I told her, she started crying," Gilmore said, his eyes moistening. "I mean, I almost started crying. I felt like my heart was broken. We couldn't figure out why they do it. Why they can keep us over here right after they told us we were coming home." Sgt. Felipe Vega, who oversees the platoon, sat alone in the platoon quarters, writing a letter. A photo of his wife, Rhonda, was taped to the wall above him. It is Vega's job to maintain morale. That's not easy, he told me, when the Army keeps changing the orders. "They turn around and slap you in the face," he said. When asked if that's the way it feels, he said, "Yeah, kicked in the guts, slapped in the face." Losing Faith The 2nd Brigade originally came to Kuwait for six months of exercises. Then they stayed to fight the war. Like the others, Vega thought that would be the end of it. "What was told to us in Kuwait," he said, "was the fastest way to go home was through Baghdad. And that's what we did." But more than three months later they are still here. "Well it pretty much makes me lose faith in the Army," said Pfc. Jayson Punyhotra, one of the soldiers grouped around the table. "I mean, I don't really believe anything they tell me. If they told me we were leaving next week, I wouldn't believe them." Fighting words from men who are eager to put down their weapons.