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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — With scant details available on how Pacific bases will be affected, servicemembers indicated they had little idea Tuesday what to make of President Bush’s plans to return up to 70,000 overseas servicemembers and 100,000 civilians to the United States over the next decade.

While the bulk of the reductions and base closures would take place in Europe, Pentagon officials said, there are ongoing “negotiations” on shifting forces in the Pacific. But at a background briefing by Pentagon and State Department officials after Bush’s speech Monday, no new details were given.

Any changes in numbers “will not be dramatic in Asia,” said a senior defense official who briefed Pentagon reporters on condition of anonymity.

Some troops at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, for instance, had yet to hear of the restructuring plan.

But some, such as Staff Sgt. Beneria Hill, a dental technician with the 35th Dental Squadron, thought that what she’s heard of the president’s intentions would bring much-needed relief to overworked troops based in the United States.

“With the ops tempo the way it is, they’re working so hard over there that they’re burning out our people,” she said. “Here, we’re not overmanned, but we’re comfortable. I think it will afford people in the States more of an opportunity to take leave, go on [temporary duty], without their supervisor saying you can’t go because the shop is too minimally manned.”

Another Misawa senior airman, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron structural engineer Tobin Lindsey, at first said the proposed troop withdrawal in Europe and Asia wouldn’t affect him.

Then Lindsey got to thinking: His Misawa tour is up in May and he wants to go to England next. “I want to stay overseas,” he said, wondering if perhaps it will be tougher to do so if Bush’s plan moves forward.

Thinking some more, Lindsey said, “I don’t see why they would need that many [troops] in the States. If something happens overseas, they can get us there a lot faster than they can from the States. Especially since they spent all the money sending everyone overseas already. It seems like kind of a waste.”

In South Korea, U.S. officials already publicly have acknowledged a proposal to remove 12,500 of the roughly 33,000 servicemembers here, with 3,600 2nd Infantry Division troops already deployed to Iraq.

While the initial U.S. proposal called for that being completed by the end of next year, South Korean officials Tuesday reiterated their desire to see the reductions delayed by one to two years. The two sides are to negotiate the issue Aug. 19 at the next round of Future of the Alliance Talks.

Among soldiers, the reduction plan — coupled with ongoing efforts to consolidate and relocate bases to areas south of Seoul — seem popular.

“I’m all for moving out a third of the troops in Korea. Between the one-year tours and the old bases and all that, I think having fewer people here is better,” said Staff. Sgt. William Banks of 8th Army.

Banks and his friends, sitting in an Itaewon coffeehouse Tuesday, agreed that returning some South Korea-based troops to the United States would make sense.

“I mean, if you’ve got the Air Force here and the Navy around, you don’t really have to have as many soldiers. If you’re talking about keeping North Korea honest, they’re more scared of smart bombs and stealth fighters than infantry guys,” said Sgt. Chris Smith, also of 8th Army.

At the same time, they said, some soldiers who joined the Army specifically so that they could go on overseas tours might become disappointed.

On Okinawa, civilian workers and family members had mixed reactions.

Jenna Kuehn, whose husband is in the Air Force, said she understood the necessity of overseas deployments but didn’t necessarily like them.

“My husband is active-duty Air Force, and I don’t like it when he deploys, but on the other hand we need military overseas in the need of a disaster or crisis,” she said.

Yoshiki Genka, a civilian postal worker on Camp Foster, wondered about job security if troops were pulled from Okinawa.

“If they leave Japan, many of us would lose our jobs,” he said.

In South Korea, that scenario already is playing out. Because of consolidation plans with 2nd ID bases north of Seoul, military officials laid off some 800 South Korean base employees last month. While those employees will be eligible for placement on other bases, the bulk likely will be forced into retirement.

Japanese government officials had little to say about Bush’s speech but acknowledged discussions have been under way.

“Unofficial talks have been long going on between the governments at different levels,” said a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ International Press Division in Tokyo on Tuesday.

He would not comment on unattributed reports in the Japanese press that the talks involve moving some Marine units from Okinawa to mainland Japan — primarily an artillery unit barred from having live-fire exercises on Okinawa.

“We are not in a position to disclose details of the discussions because there is another party involved,” he said. “Having said that, for Japan, it is important that the deterrence power is effectively maintained.

“At the same time, the government will give consideration to the burden of the local communities hosting the military facilities including Okinawa,” he said. “We will pursue further consultation with the United States in line with this policy.”

In comments to reporters Monday on a flight from Russia, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said local perceptions would be one of the driving factors in determining realignment.

“Other countries will have alternatives, and we’re flexible. We want our forces where they’re wanted,” he said, according to a Pentagon transcript. “We want our forces where we have the right kinds of legal arrangements and SOFAs ... our status of forces agreements and the like.”

Rumsfeld also said it was unlikely the changes would be announced in one fell swoop.

“So, pieces will be then announced as they are resolved and sorted through or discussed,” he said. “And then they will play out over a period of years, so there’s not going to be a big announcement of everything.

“But what will happen is all of the discussions will go forward, and they’ll be announced as they’re finalized, and then it could play out over four, five, six years.”

Jennifer Svan, Chiyomi Sumida, David Allen and Mark Rankin contributed to this report.


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