FORT STEWART, Ga. — In many ways, Staff Sgt. John Teasley still feels like he just got home.
It was actually nearly seven months ago — Aug. 25 — when Teasley returned to Fort Stewart after fighting the war in Iraq.
Since then, he's spent time catching up with family and his girlfriend in Florida, trying to see movies he missed over the summer, reminding himself he's home safe. And pondering the first question to cross his mind when he got off the plane: "But for how long?"
Almost a year after the Army's 3rd Infantry Division began the invasion of Iraq — on March 20, 2003 — its troops received orders this month to be ready to return between November and February.
The news surprised few soldiers, considering the Army has few options for its next troop rotation in Iraq with 110,000 now arriving and 130,000 headed home. But many say it's a mission they don't relish after coming home just last summer.
"I don't think anybody I know really wants to go back," Teasley said. "It took a couple of months just getting used to realizing we're in a safe place — you can drive under overpasses without having to secure them and make sure nobody's going to drop a grenade on you."
The 3rd Infantry deployed 16,500 troops to the war last year, and its tanks and armored Bradley vehicles led the assault on Baghdad. Division soldiers saw 21 straight days of combat and suffered 42 casualties.
Maj. Gen. William G. Webster, the 3rd Infantry commander, said he expects most of the division this time will deploy for up to year. The early notice, he said, at least lets troops prepare their families.
"They're willing to go back and do whatever the hell needs to be done," Webster said. "The whole nation's at war, and they know every other division has gone or is going. And that we're all going to go back."
After 13 years in the Army, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Harper has gotten used to constant deployments — to Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.
But it's harder with a young family. There's never enough time for playful wrestling with his 5-year-old son or for spending with his 9-month-old daughter, who was born while he was at war.
"Here in this modern Army, I guess all we can do is catch up with our families," said Harper, 34. "But this is the profession we've chosen. ... We can't just say, 'I just fought a war' and continue to sit on our laurels."
Memories of the war remain fresh for veterans who battled Iraqi fighters during the capture of Saddam International Airport and later controlled the eastern part of Baghdad.
They recall the eerie silence and massive dust clouds as U.S. tanks first rumbled across the Kuwaiti border, and the horror of seeing four soldiers die in a giant fireball from a suicide bomber's exploding taxi.
Some laugh about the squalid living conditions at Baghdad's ransacked Ministry of Interior with its flickering electricity, broken windows and little running water. Troops dubbed it "Hotel Hell."
"Hopefully, some things will be better," said 1st Sgt. Benjamin Moore. "I think the quality of life will be better, improved by 200 percent."
After relying on postal "snail mail" and infrequent phone calls during the war, military families expect e-mail and improved phone service in Iraq will ease their separation this time.
By the time the troops deploy, they should also know when they'll get home — a big deal at Fort Stewart, where morale dipped during the war when tentative return dates were pushed back over several months.
"A year is much better than an open-ended scenario. It's just nice to deal with a known," said Jan Grimsely, family readiness adviser for the 1st Brigade Combat Team commanded by her husband, Col. Will Grimsely.
"I'm not saying it's easy, but it'll be easier if you know its coming and what to expect."
Aspects of the soldiers' mission could be more difficult. U.S. troops serving as security forces in Iraq now face shadowy enemies, armed with hidden explosives, who are hard to identify. Veterans know it's tough to keep an edge over months of routine patrols.
"A year over there is going to be as big a challenge as we had before, keeping the guys focused," said Lt. Col. Todd Wood, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. "From our experience, there's an incredible sense of boredom that's just shattered by seconds of sheer terror."
And a new Iraqi government is set to take over June 30, meaning 3rd Infantry troops will have to abide by some Iraqi laws unlike during the war, when they were the law. "I told my guys, 'We're going back over there and we can't do the things we did before."'
After taking command of the 3rd Infantry in September, Webster already had his troops retraining for combat.
His division is the first in the Army to undergo a massive reorganization. To streamline combat forces for faster deployment, the 3rd Infantry's three main brigades are being reconfigured into five fighting units.
The first of those new units will begin desert training at Fort Irwin, Calif., in late March. In April, one of the division's infantry battalions will go to South Korea for a month-long training rotation.
Thousands of new troops need training because of turnover, about 35 percent, since the division returned from Iraq. And Webster's working to plug any holes in the division's readiness that foes might exploit.
Soldiers are supplementing morning workouts with hand-to-hand combat lessons from a tae kwon do instructor. Support troops who rarely engage in combat are getting extra time on the rifle ranges.
"This enemy is learning from us and he knows he can't take us head on, so he's looking for vulnerabilities," Webster said.