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Quality of life for servicemembers could suffer if the Pentagon does not plan properly as it embarks on its plan to redeploy troops from Europe and Asia to stateside bases, one expert said.

Most public schools surrounding military bases in the States already are at or near capacity, with budgets that won’t be able to accommodate an influx of students, said Joyce Raezer, director of government relations for the National Military Family Association.

“It happens with [military construction] and it’s going to happen with reposturing. They’re going to have the students coming back, mostly from Germany, to various installations, and a lot of the schools already are at capacity.”

“There are so many, so many issues,” she said. Raezer wondered whether the military will have enough medical providers to treat the influx of servicemembers and their families, and will the surge cripple the already-delayed access retirees suffer in getting treatment.

President Bush announced Monday a 10-year plan to return to the United States as many as 70,000 troops now living overseas, and 100,000 family members and civilian employees.

Even if the moves don’t begin until fiscal 2006, as Pentagon officials have said, that still is not enough time for school districts to build schools, buy buses or hire teachers, Raezer said.

And the military’s need to wait on actions of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, which won’t get Pentagon recommendations until May 2005, complicates matters, she said.

“The Army is not saying yet where these people are going to go, and school districts need to know.”

The redeployment plan will save the military money in the long-term, Raezer said.

“It’s a lot cheaper to have bare-boned bases [overseas] if you don’t have to have schools, don’t have to have quality of life such as family housing, youth programs and such. But they’re still going to need to provide those services back in the States.”

The plan, in reality, could mean more family separations, said Kathy Moakler, deputy director of government relations NMFA.

“We agree that it certainly will add to stability as far as location goes, but there’s a double-edged sword. This also means there will be more frequent deployments and more family separations.”

For families in Europe, it’s a matter of perspective.

Those with children, such as Jessica Sutfin of Katterbach, Germany, feel they can better handle their spouse’s long deployments if they are back in the United States, where they are closer to the support network of family and friends.

Single soldiers, however, seem to appreciate the opportunities afforded to soldiers overseas, primarily the opportunity to travel and explore different cultures.

“I can handle all the six-month deployments they throw at me,” said Sutfin, who has three young children and a fourth child on the way. “But these real long [deployments] are a pain in the butt [when you have] kids.”

Out of the four years her husband has been stationed in Germany, they have been separated for roughly 2½ years, Sutfin said. He is currently in Iraq, serving a 12-month tour with the 1st Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade.

Spc. Jonathan Dorshimer is a tank driver for Büdingen’s 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division. Before coming to Germany, Dorshimer, who was flipping burgers at Burger King, said he bought into the military’s promise to see the world.

If it weren’t for the Army, “I probably never would have left the United States,” Dorshimer said. “I do think it would be good for stability in terms of kids [to go to one school].”

Maggie Minniti, originally from Gdansk, Poland, has been married to a Darmstadt, Germany-based soldier, Sgt. John Andrew Minniti, for a year. After being separated for most of the year they were engaged, she is glad to live now wherever he is stationed.

“Being able to travel in Europe makes it worthwhile. We don’t have any kids,” Minniti said. “But for me, being with my husband is more important. I would prefer losing my job than not being with my husband.”

Spc. Thomas Renner, who is married and has a 2-year-old daughter, wants his family to be wherever he is — be it in Europe or the States.

“I want my family to go with me wherever I go, except a war zone,” he said. “Even two months is too long to be away from them,” said Renner, referring to the possibility that in the future, troops may deploy from the States to remote bases in Eastern Europe for months at a time.

“It’s going to be terrible if we leave,” said Dorshimer’s Army buddy, Pfc. Matthew Mitchell. “Germany is an amazing place.”

Brandi Hennessy’s husband left the Army “because of the time he was spending away from home,” she said of Spc. Neal Hennessy, last with the 1st Armored Division in Germany. “I know that we would rather move more often, than have him deployed more. To me, it’s more important that our family is together than we stay in the same place.

“We loved living in Germany, and would do it again in a heartbeat. I think that having a home base is a good idea, but that there are other things the Army could do first to make military life with a family better.

“For one, more training at their home base. My husband was infantry, and his unit spent the vast majority of their days on post mowing lawns, cleaning barracks and playing video games in single soldiers’ rooms. If there was better leadership and better planning, a lot of the training that soldiers are sent away for could be done at home.

“Home base would force the Army to send them away from home more often,” said Hennessy, who now lives in Visalia, Calif. “I personally would rather spend a few years in Germany, and have my husband there with me most of the time, than spend his entire career in the U.S. and have him miss our children growing up. Six months is a long time in the life of a toddler. My husband missed our son’s first birthday, first steps, first words and many more firsts.”

Steve Liewer and Kevin Dougherty contributed to this report.


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