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The Pentagon’s Wednesday announcement of longer combat tours for active-duty soldiers has drawn mixed reaction from troops throughout Europe heading downrange.

For some members of the 1st Armored Division Headquarters, scheduled for Iraq in the late summer, the news that deployments have changed from 12 to 15 months held little surprise.

“We were told in the beginning that’s probably how much we were going to do,” said Sgt. Kimberly Hodge, 24, from Rosemont, Calif. “It wasn’t a big surprise to me.”

Still, Hodge, a mechanic for 1st AD’s division maintenance section, would rather find out now that her unit’s been extended than after she’s already in Iraq. “It gives you time to prepare to stay that long,” said Hodge, whose husband is also in the military. “It gives your family time to prepare for it.”

That’s little consolation to some families, who were hoping for the best.

“My wife absolutely does not want to hear about it,” said Pvt. Curtis Huselton, 24, whose family — including a wife and four young children — just arrived in Germany after nearly a year apart. “She doesn’t like the idea that I’m going to Iraq at all.”

He also broke the news to his two older children. The youngest are 3½-month-old twins, the others 5 and 6 years old. “They don’t really understand what it is I do,” said Huselton, a mechanic who works with Hodge. “I have a big family, so it’s going to be kind of hard on me” and on them, he said.

Huselton, who has never deployed, has mixed feelings about the deployment itself, but said he’s sure it’s an experience he won’t forget. And he’s remaining optimistic about the possibilities for bonding with his unit and learning new things.

“They can shorten [our tour] when we get down there,” he said. “Anything can happen, but just plan on doing 15.”

Maj. Nick Sternberg, public affairs officer for the 173rd Airborne Brigade, said the unit — weeks away from deploying to Afghanistan — was waiting for more word before commenting on the extension.

“Obviously, by this state, we know that we will be affected, because the secretary of defense made an announcement that all active-duty units would be affected,” he said, adding that the only notification received so far came from the media, and that more information was to come from the Pentagon late Thursday. Most of the brigade’s soldiers in Schweinfurt and Bamberg in Germany, and Vicenza, Italy, are currently on the standard block leave that units take before rotating into combat.

Maj. Ryan Dillon, public affairs officer for the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) said he didn’t think the extension would cause much change for the various groups geared to support families on bases around Europe. “We will support families whether the soldier is deployed for three months, 12 months or 15 months,” he said.

Spouses of soldiers in the 596th Maintenance Company are fretting over the new policy. Their better-halves deployed last September, and the hope was that the Darmstadt-based unit would return a year later.

“The families are the ones who suffer,” said Army Staff Sgt. Ivan Figueroa, the company’s rear-detachment liaison for family readiness groups. “This morning, I got a lot of calls.”

As good fortune would have it, Figueroa was in the process of finalizing plans for a unit field trip Friday for the children and spouses of deployed soldiers. More than 100 people had signed up to go on the daylong bus trip to Legoland down near Stuttgart. Another trip is planned for June to Berlin.

Figueroa said the spouses he’s heard from are concerned and a bit confused by the news. He’s advised them to wait and give the issue time to get sorted out. “These trips are good for the spouses’ morale,” Figueroa said.

Staff writers Matt Millham, Mark St.Clair, Kent Harris and Kevin Dougherty contributed to this report.


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