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Troops’ reaction across Europe to the announcement of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation ranged from shock to disinterest.

Pfc. Timothy Saunders, 24, from Leavenworth, Kan., with the 18th MP brigade in Mannheim, Germany, said he was surprised by the announcement.

“It’s a shock,” he said. “I guess with that and the Democrats taking the House, it looks like there will probably be some changes in Iraq” in the next two years.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Sarah Bir, stationed with the Navy’s 6th Fleet in Naples, Italy, found the announcement to be unexpected and was concerned by it.

“I’d rather not see our senior defense leadership leave while this country is in the middle of a war,” she said.

Other servicemembers either didn’t care about his resignation or appeared open to the change.

“I don’t really care, man, I just do my job,” said Staff Sgt. Ephraim Cruz, 33, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, who is stationed in Mannheim.

Spc. Brandon Birkey, with Company B, 54th Engineer Battalion in Bamberg, Germany, just got back from Iraq two weeks ago. He thinks it’s time for a change.

“I think it’s time for another person to step up and see if they’re capable of making better decisions regarding Iraq. This war’s gone on for a long time … it’s time for new ideas.”

Other servicemembers felt Rumsfeld’s resignation offers a chance for reassessment within the DOD when it comes to Iraq, said Senior Airman Felicia Welch of RAF Lakenheath’s 48th Communications Squadron.

“I feel like it’s going to be good for our government to re-evaluate our purpose,” Welch said, adding that she was not surprised by Rumsfeld’s resignation. “I never felt our purpose was clearly stated.”

Other servicemembers spoke about their reactions to the elections before hearing the announcement of Rumsfeld’s resignation.

“The American people have spoken, and a lot of it is to do with what is going on with the war on terrorism and in Iraq. I think it sends a clear message,” said Chief Master Sgt. Mark Gagnon from the 100th Mission Support Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, England.

With Democrats taking control of the House and challenging for control of the Senate, at question now is how — or if — the upheaval in Congress will affect the conduct of the war in Iraq.

“We’re actually embedded [in Iraq] for awhile,” Gagnon said. “Even with a new government, we’re not going to be able to pull out. And if we do, it’ll just make matters worse. I think it’s going to be a point on just trying to make it better than it is now.”

Americans associated with the U.S. military in Europe expressed an assortment of opinions on the Iraq war and the elections in general Wednesday, though many were still unaware of the results or declined to give their personal views.

Almost all of those who spoke to Stars and Stripes indicated either ambivalence or satisfaction with the election results, though most believed the reallocation of congressional power to Democrats would not fundamentally change the course of the war in Iraq. A lack of options, a lack of a coherent Democratic plan and the president’s veto power were among the reasons given for that belief.

Some are pessimistic

A small number of people were pessimistic about the outcome, believing that Democrats would withdraw support for the war. Some hoped — or feared — the Democrats would spur change.

Spc. Mark McCouch, 25, a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Special Troops Battalion in Bamberg, Germany, is one who thinks the Democrats will push for change.

“The Democrats are more passionate; you figure they’re going to try to do something to expedite the situation in Iraq,” he said. “They’re going to challenge what (President) Bush is doing.”

Regardless of who is in power, McCouch said, Iraq is a bad situation that is going to be unsuccessful, regardless of who is in charge.

David Summerfield, a retired senior master sergeant who arrived on a Space-A flight into Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Wednesday morning, was among those unhappy with the election result.

“I don’t like it,” he said.

“[Democrats] don’t support our commander in chief and they don’t support the mission,” said Summerfield, who lives in Rawlings, Md. “Don’t tell me you support the troops if you don’t support the mission.”

While hoping Tuesday’s outcome would bring about change, Sameon West, a civilian spouse at Aviano, was cautiously optimistic about the Democrats’ success.

“But the Democrats … they’re still not saying what they’re going to do to make things better.”

West thinks the current crop of politicians will be forced, as a matter of pragmatism, to reconsider the course in Iraq.

“They’re going to want to stay in office,” he said. “So they’ll have to listen to the people. And a lot of people aren’t happy.”

But Jennifer Saunders, a Republican and military spouse at Aviano, said Tuesday’s outcome left her depressed because she believes in what Republicans stand for and is afraid the Democrats might take the war effort in a different direction.

“Unfortunately, Democrats tend to not be as pro-military and supportive of war efforts,” Saunders said.

Saunders was in the minority. Only two people interviewed expressed clear dissatisfaction with the results.

Balance of power

A fair number of those who were satisfied with the election result cited a more representative balance of power as the reason for their optimism.

“Politics are going to be fun for the next couple of months. The change is going to be unpredictable, and it’ll add new life in the political arena,” said Brent Paschal, a 45-year-old contingency planner for the Navy’s 6th Fleet based in Naples, Italy. “I feel good about it.”

With political power now more evenly divided, Paschal said the American people will be better represented.

“And this may provide a better consensus of what we want to do in the region,” he said, referring to the Middle East. He added that efforts to stabilize the region might also gain ground.

Voting a privilege

As both a Muslim and a woman, Petty Officer 1st Class Courtney Mahmoud-Omar said she has a greater appreciation for the privilege of voting than some. Though her choice for the Senate in Connecticut lost, Mahmoud-Omar was happy with gains made by Democrats in the House.

“I’m happy to see that now there will be more of a balance. I’m always for opposing viewpoints getting their say,” said the sponsor program coordinator for Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station in Naples.

Even though Democrats will have a new, bigger voice in the next Congress, most of the servicemembers questioned doubted that will have much effect on the conduct of the Iraq war.

Though disinclined to give his opinion on electoral gains made by Democrats, Capt. Jonte Harrell doesn’t expect the new majority in the House to force any sudden change in the U.S. approach to Iraq.

“I wouldn’t say it would tremendously affect the war immediately, simply because we have a lot invested in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Harrell, of the 32nd Signal Battalion in Darmstadt, Germany.

Though she doesn’t favor any party and regretted that she didn’t follow the election as closely as she should have, Pfc. Whitney Parks was happy with how the election turned out.

“I kinda like it,” said Parks, also of the 32nd Signal Battalion.

Her contentment had less to do with the Democrats’ stances on particular issues than with the lack of effective governance under Republican rule.

“The Republicans aren’t doing anything right now; let’s give the Democrats a chance,” she said.

As for the war in Iraq, “It’s far from being over,” she said.

Recently back from Iraq, Sgt. Rachid Akhrid, 33, was also dubious that gains made by Democrats in the House would have much influence on the war.

“Neither the Democrats or Republicans will have a solution for Iraq,” he said, adding that the U.S. is “in too deep” and can’t pull its troops from the country without it devolving into chaos. “It’s already civil war,” he said.

“As long as certain powers are in place, I don’t think there will be any major changes,” said Mychal Jamison, a Bamberg, Germany-based soldier. “Remember, the president still has veto power.”

For different reasons, 1st Sgt. Dan Seeback, from Grafenwöhr, Germany, doesn’t think the election will have any short-term effect on the military.

“It’s not just the elected officials. It is also the military officials who have a lot to say about our fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Staff Sgt. Kimberly Grimsley of Lakenheath’s 48th Contracting Squadron said the Democrats would probably affect the course in Iraq. But she didn’t predict a change in Iraq overnight.

“Initially, nothing’s going to change because it’s so dramatic in Iraq,” Grimsley said. “It’s going to be a gradual shift.”

Some troops who were happy with the election result hoped that Democratic control of Congress could spur more substantive changes in Iraq policy.

“I think they might try and ease up on the deployments, bring some of them back,” said Army Capt. Leon Melton, 38, who is stationed at the 1st Theater Movement Control Agency in Kaiserslautern, Germany. “But it’s easy when you’re not the one in charge to say, ‘Hey, if I was in charge, I would’ve brought them back.’ But now that they’re in charge, will that happen?”

Reporters Sandra Jontz in Naples, Italy; Kent Harris in Aviano, Italy; Mark St. Clair in Bamberg, Germany; Scott Schonauer in Ramstein, Germany; Geoff Ziezulewicz in Mildenhall, England; Sean Kimmons in Lakenheath, England; and Seth Robson in Grafenwöhr, Germany, contributed to this report.


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