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Troops deployed to the gritty combat zones of Iraq and Central Asia say they’ll miss tours to friendlier assignments in Europe, but the understand the reasons for cutting troops there.

It’s reductions to forces from South Korea — a hardship tour for most soldiers — that’s raising eyebrows among many troops.

As part of a plan announced by President Bush on Monday, the Pentagon will cut some 70,000 troops from Europe and the Pacific. The bulk of those cuts will come from Europe, officials say, largely from the Army’s Germany-based 1st Armored and 1st Infantry divisions. Those units will relocate to the United States starting in as little as two years. In the Pacific, up to one-third of the 37,000 U.S. troops based in South Korea will leave the peninsula, as well.

Both Germany-based divisions and one brigade from the South Korea-based 2nd Infantry Division have been, or currently are, deployed to Iraq.

“As much as I liked being stationed in Germany, it’s about time we pulled out,” said Sgt. 1st Class David Westphal, now serving in Iraq with a Fort Riley, Kan.-based unit.

“The threat we had no longer exists,” he said. “The threat is elsewhere.”

That threat, many believe, is in South Korea. Many don’t agree with cuts there, as it may provide too much of a temptation to nuclear-armed North Korea.

“As soon as you do that, they’ll walk right down into Seoul,” said retired Sgt. 1st Class Reginald Joseph, who’s in Iraq working for Datapath Company, a military contractor. “It’s a cakewalk.”

Joseph, who retired from the Army two years ago, spent three years in South Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division.

“It definitely makes it easier for North Korea,” agreed Dallas-native Spc. Jeff Nichols of the 555th Engineer Company, who spent a year in South Korea. “[Troops] being a hell of a lot closer to home is not good for national or world security. It won’t benefit from that.”

Some soldiers believe that their soldiering skills benefited from being stationed overseas.

“As soon as you’re overseas, you have to concentrate more,” said Joseph. “It gives soldiers a sense of urgency and an idea of what the Army is all about.”

“Training is not the same back home like it is there,” said Westphal. “The operational tempo of the Army will keep you overseas, anyway.”

“We get to places sometimes that we don’t like or that are a hardship, like Iraq, but even in those hardships there is a tremendous opportunity to grow and learn and expand yourself culturally,” said Sgt. Brian Sutton of the 2nd ID’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. “In that regard, I will miss an overseas assignment.”

“Soldiers probably always look at stateside assignments as a good thing because that puts us closer to home and family,” said the 33-year-old Sutton, who left his wife and children in South Korea for this deployment. “If we are talking about moving units back to the States, I’m all for that.”

Pfc. Travis Jenkins, however, couldn’t disagree more.

Jenkins was disappointed when he got assigned to Hawaii after graduating from military police school last year. His first pick: Germany.

“I was really hoping to get an assignment there,” said Jenkins, now deployed to Uzbekistan. “I guess now I won’t get my chance.”

His supervisor, Staff Sgt. Eric Gutierrez, got his chance a few years ago and wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

“I loved Europe, I had a blast,” said Gutierrez, who served in Germany from 1999 to 2002 and is now deployed to Uzbekistan. Still, he says he grudgingly accepts that times are changing.

“We’ve been drawing down Europe for years and this is probably next logical step,” he said.

Others hope there will still be opportunities for duty there.

“People really want to do tours in Europe,” said Air Force Capt. Scott Meakin, an HC-130 “Combat King” navigator in Uzbekistan.

“A lot of people join the military to see the world,” said Meakin. With troops restricted to base in Uzbekistan, Meakin says he doesn’t feel like he’s seeing much of this part of the world. “At least in Europe you can go out and experience the culture.”

Others, however, say it’s not where you serve, but how you serve.

“If you’re going to be a good soldier, it’s in yourself, not where you’re at,” said the Bronx, N.Y.-native Sgt. Michael Reuben of the 2nd Battalion, 58th Field Artillery, who’s deployed to Iraq with the 95th Military Police Battalion.

— Reporter Seth Robson contributed to this story.


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