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WASHINGTON — If elected president, Barack Obama would boost foreign language and nation-building training for all troops, John Edwards would create a deployable reserve corps of civilian experts, and Fred Thompson would boost the Army to 775,000 soldiers.

Those ideas are just a few presidential candidates shared with Stars and Stripes on how to improve military readiness and servicemembers’ quality of life.

In a questionnaire sent to the major campaigns last month, five candidates responded to issues of military operations in Iraq, homosexuals in the military, postcombat health care and ways to better help families of deployed troops.

While all expressed an admiration for servicemembers and their efforts, Democratic and Republican candidates offered drastically different views of how to proceed with operations overseas, and how best to prepare the services for the future.

Republicans Thompson and John McCain both echoed President Bush’s assertions that great strides have been made in Iraq in recent months, and opposed any plans calling for withdrawal timelines or a hasty pullout from the country.

But Democrats Obama, Edwards and Bill Richardson all called for the immediate withdrawal of significant U.S. forces from the country, with Richardson proposing all troops be removed as soon as possible because “there can be no political solution while our military remains there.”

All of the respondents except Thompson believe more resources need to be committed to Afghanistan. McCain said he believes NATO should send more troops there, while Edwards would boost U.S. Special Forces in the country.

Obama said he would send “at least an additional two brigades of rested American troops” there, while Richardson proposed deploying 20,000 more troops for border patrol and securing the country’s southern provinces.

Both Thompson and McCain oppose moves which would allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military and allowing overseas military facilities to perform abortions. Richardson, Obama, and Edwards all oppose the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and would make abortions available to overseas troops and dependents.

The candidates all agreed on the importance of military family quality of life in recruiting.

McCain said competitive pay and benefits packages are the best tool to help those families, while Richardson singled out proposals to give deployed parents more legal protections in custody cases and increased funds for marriage counseling.

Stars and Stripes surveyed the 2008 presidential candidates about their positions on issues important to members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Click here to compare their answers side by side.

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