HOLLIS, N.H. (AP) – Family members of a military police unit deployed 17 months ago and sent to Iraq last April met Monday night to plan a campaign to get the soldiers home.

“Our soldiers served well, they fought valiantly in the Sunni Triangle. It is now time for them to come home,” said Gerri Whittredge, at whose home about 30 family members met.

Whittredge, mother of Sgt. Steven R. Whittredge, 35, member of the 94th Military Police Company headquartered in Londonderry, said the unit was sent to Kuwait two weeks ago to prepare to go home.

During the weekend, she said, its members were preparing to board buses for planes to head home but on Sunday their departure was put on hold at the last minute.

“This is mental torture – the Army has managed to do what the enemy couldn’t” Whittredge said. “The Army is mentally torturing the soldiers and is terrorizing their families,” she said.

“Until now their morale was high. Not anymore,” she said.

She added that “we supported President Bush but that may come to a halt soon. We will respond where it counts, at the voting booth,” she said.

Whittredge said the group plans a letter-writing campaign to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, cabinet members and members of Congress.

“We will go before every media we can think of, we will hang banners from bridges, we will go before Congress – whatever it takes,” she said.

“These are volunteer reservists who were supposed to serve for a year,” she said, adding “that in Vietnam soldiers came home after one year.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has been asking the Pentagon for information about the 150-plus unit that includes soldiers from Maine.

After being moved from Iraq to Kuwait two weeks ago, the unit has been “put on hold indefinitely,” said Jennifer Stegeman of Dayton, Maine, wife of a member of the 94th.

Collins on Sunday said in a statement that quoted a Pentagon official as saying all troops scheduled for rotation out of the region have been frozen in place pending a unit evaluation.

Stegeman said she received a call Saturday from her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Rick Stegeman, who outlined three possible scenarios for the soldiers: return to Iraq, return home or continue to stay in Kuwait.

Nancy Durst, wife of Staff Sgt. Scott Durst from southern Maine, said it was unfair to ask more of the part-time soldiers.

“These guys are exhausted,” she said. “They shouldn’t send beaten up soldiers back into combat. I don’t know what this administration’s thinking.”

The 94th was deployed in December 2002 but didn’t arrive in Iraq until the following April. A combat MP unit, the company is trained to keep supply lines secure and other military units safe.

The unit originally was to come home last fall, one year after its deployment. But under a new Army policy, reserve and National Guard units can spend 12 months in the country to which they are deployed.

The company spent nine months on a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia before being sent to the Middle East.


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