FORT BRAGG, N.C. — With preparations under way at Fort Bragg for Tuesday night’s presidential visit, soldiers are hoping for a clear message on the administration's plans for Iraq.
Spec. Jessica Ricker, 20, hasn’t served in Iraq, but she thinks she’ll be sent there before the U.S. mission is over. Snacking on pizza and soda, she mused about rumors she’s heard on base.
“We hear so many different things,” Ricker said. “It’s ending. It’s not ending. We’re already told that we’re redeploying a year from now, so it doesn’t sound like it’s gonna end to me.”
Ricker is not planning on being in the audience for President Bush’s speech at 8 p.m. EST.
Hoping for answers
Other soldiers are more optimistic. Preparing for his wedding this weekend, Sgt. Corey Goss looked over rings at a local jewelry shop and talked about his hopes for President Bush's address.
“Maybe he’ll specify more of his plan for expediting the process” of bringing home the troops, suggested Goss. “We pretty much want it to be over with. There are a lot of guys that we have over there from my unit that have only been there since November, but they’re ready to come home.”
Republican leaders in North Carolina say Bush won’t venture into nearby Fayetteville during his visit. However, demonstrators are still planning a protest and vigil at the Market House downtown.
Soldiers say the demonstrators have a right to protest, even though the antiwar rhetoric can sting.
Need support, not demonstrations
Lt. Jody Harbett-Trask said she takes the protests personally. While shopping for a stroller for her niece, she talked about the need for understanding on the home front.
“Yes, we want our family members home, but we know they’re doing a good job over there,” she said. “We need the support; we don’t need to be protested against.”
Chief Warrant Officer Allan Amos said he doesn’t mind the protests, unless they become violent.
“That’s their right, and that again shows, we’re over there fighting for a right that we have here,” Amos said. “A liberty that we have in the U.S., that most people don’t have.”
Amos explained that his assignment with the Homeland Security Department will keep him from attending the speech, but he supports the president’s policies.
“Just the mere fact that he’s coming to Fort Bragg lets the soldiers know that he is concerned about the country as a whole,” Amos said. “And just to take the time out of his busy schedule to spend with the soldiers can only be a morale booster.”
Future of base is another question mark
Besides a timetable for leaving Iraq, soldiers at Fort Bragg are also wondering about the future of this Army base.
The adjacent Pope Air Force Base is scheduled to be turned over to Fort Bragg in a few years to house two Army command offices. A small group of Air Force pilots would remain to transport troops for missions and training. So soldiers are also hoping that the president will talk about the future of the facility during his address.
Amos is confident that the president will deliver answers tonight. “I know whatever he has to say will be important, and we’re gonna understand what his ideas are and where he’s taking our country within the next few years,” Amos said.
Donna Gregory is an NBC News correspondent on assignment at Fort Bragg.