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Troops in Europe say long U.S. stay in Iraq may thin force

The report that the Army is prepared to keep the same troop levels in Iraq for the next four years if necessary doesn’t make life easier for people like Jose Torrez.

A first sergeant with the Darmstadt, Germany-based 440th Signal Battalion, Torrez is charged with overseeing about 90 soldiers in his company, which includes convincing them to re-enlist when their time is up.

That job just got more difficult, he said, after Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army’s chief of staff, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the Army is planning for the possibility that it may have to keep its current troop strength until 2009. That means soldiers could experience the same rigorous deployment schedules for years to come.

“It’s going to be tough, trying to keep these guys in,” Torrez said, adding that Schoomaker’s comments did not come as a surprise to him. “But we do the best we can. We try to sell it.”

Schoomaker painted the scenario as a “worst case,” adding that numbers could be adjusted lower by slowing the pace of rotations or shortening tours.

For some soldiers, the possibility of four more years of continuous deployments is reason enough to leave. Many cite time away from families as the main drawback.

“If I hit three back-to-back-to-back deployments, hell no I’m not going [to re-enlist],” said Spc. Jacob Scott, a reservist from Mississippi training in Grafenwöhr, Germany, this week. “As far as the soldiers, they’ve got the heart to go, but it’s the families you leave behind.”

“I know it’s going to hurt enlistment,” said Sgt. First Class Herbert McDonald, a reservist in Scott’s unit. “That’s the first thing [recruiters] will say.”

Others said they would re-enlist, citing downrange pay as the biggest motivator.

“I’m doing it for the money,” said Pfc. Michael Dutra, with the 440th Signal Battalion. With 2½ years left in his enlistment, Dutra said he planned to re-up for two more years and walk away with enough money to buy a house.

Dutra was one of six soldiers in a group of about 40 people to raise his hand when Torrez asked Monday who planned to re-enlist.

Pfc. Jeff Barber did not raise his hand. He planned to leave the Army in September, but was stop-lossed — meaning he will stay past the end date of his enlistment — until 2007. He said he was “resolute” about his decision to leave even before Schoomaker’s comments.

Sgt. Kenneth Payne, 30, of the 17th Signal Battalion in Kitzingen, Germany, re-enlisted last Friday for another tour after nine years in the Army. He’s served one Iraq tour already and said he was not fazed by the prospect of another.

“I know I’m going to go back,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Payne thinks it would be a mistake to leave Iraq before the country is stable.

“It would concern me more if we were going to pull back,” he said. “We can’t just walk away. We broke it; now we’ve got to stay until it’s fixed.”

Schoomaker’s “worst-case” scenario did not surprise Pvt. Anthony Jukuri.

Jukuri joined the Army seven months ago and was leaning toward re-enlisting in Iraq both to take advantage of bonuses and to get greater control over his career.

Spc. MicHeal Tatum, of the 1st Infantry Division’s headquarters company in Würzburg, said he hoped the unit’s planned move to Fort Riley, Kan., next year would keep him out of Iraq until his enlistment runs out in 2007.

“The hard part isn’t being deployed. It’s being away from your family,” Tatum said. “I’ve got a wife and two kids. The first time was hard.”

He was awed to learn the Army is planning for the possibility of four more years in Iraq at current troops levels.

“That’s a lot of stop loss that’ll be going on then,” Tatum said.

Stars and Stripes reporters Terry Boyd, Steve Liewer and Ben Murray contributed to this report.


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