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U.S. Soldiers, Families Brace for More Deployments

November 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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In Colorado, Tom Bearden visited Fort Carson Army base to speak with troops ahead of President Obama's unveiling of his new Afghanistan plan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Part two of our reporting comes from NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden. He visited a military community in Colorado over the weekend.

WOMAN: The returning soldiers of the 10th Combat Support Hospital.

TOM BEARDEN: Fort Carson has staged a lot of coming-home ceremonies. This one was for 300 soldiers of the 10th Combat Support Hospital.

They returned on Saturday night, after spending a year in Iraq. But even though these soldiers had just touched down on home soil, their families were already anticipating their next deployment.

Stephanie Beck’s husband is a specialist with the unit.

STEPHANIE BECK: I know he’s going to — to deploy in the future. And there is already a rumor that he’s going to deploy. So, we are going to prepare for it while he’s home and, you know, do the best that we can when he’s gone.

TOM BEARDEN: Captain Tim Whoolery is a nurse and the father of three children.

CAPTAIN TIM WHOOLERY, U.S. Army: I think you go through phases. Right now, I think everyone is just excited to be home. To think about going again and being separated again right away is very difficult. But, after awhile, the idea of what you have accomplished, the memories and the feeling of accomplishment helps you to get ready for the next move.

TOM BEARDEN: Over the past eight years, units from Fort Carson have primarily been deployed to Iraq, but that started to change this year.

Currently 4,000 Fort Carson soldiers are in Afghanistan and 3,500 more will be sent next summer.

Army regulations don’t permit soldiers to talk to the media about policy decisions, like a potential surge in Afghanistan, while they’re in uniform. But the soldiers and their families we talked to were unanimous in saying they were ready to do whatever is asked of them.

Sergeant Varion Forrest has served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. But, this weekend, he was the one in the audience, welcoming home his wife from her deployment with the hospital unit.

One town, many views

Sgt. Varion Forrest
U.S. Army
You got to have a passion for what you do. And I have that passion. And so do some of my peers. And that's why we look forward to our next deployment and serving our country.

SGT. VARION FORREST, U.S. Army: This is what it's all about, good moments like this.

TOM BEARDEN: He just reenlisted for another four years, because he believes in what he's doing.

SGT. VARION FORREST: I just have faith in my training and -- and just go for it. You know, as a leader now, I make sure that I handle my soldiers and make sure that they're ready. I have done this already. I'm prepared mentally and physically. Now I make sure that my soldiers are ready.

TOM BEARDEN: So, you're prepared to keep this up indefinitely?

SGT. VARION FORREST: Yes, I am. You got to have a passion for what you do. And I have that passion. And so do some of my peers. And that's why we look forward to our next deployment and serving our country.

TOM BEARDEN: Away from the Army post, at the Black Bear Diner, other soldiers told us they oppose sending more troops.

Twenty-one-year-old Chris Toppin is a combat engineer who returned from Iraq in March.

SPC. CHRIS TOPPIN, U.S. Army: My point is, what are we really over there for? I don't really see any point, because we're not really looking for Osama bin Laden again. It's more or less for the Taliban and erasing them.

But you're never going to get rid of somebody who can hide along with the civilians. And they believe in what they believe in. You know what I'm saying? So, you can't really stop that. You can't change the way someone thinks. So, why are we over there losing American lives over there that don't really need to be lost, when you got families that are without their husbands and wives for a year to 15 months at a time? It's just ridiculous.

TOM BEARDEN: Oscar Brown served in the Air Force for 30 years. He and his wife, Vivian, who have a son who was deployed to Iraq, are of two minds about a troop surge.

OSCAR BROWN: If the mission is essential, and it might be essential to have more support with more troops, then I think that it's probably something that we can do and, hopefully, try to get out of there as soon as possible.

TOM BEARDEN: What do you think?

VIVIAN BROWN: I'm a mother. I don't like it. We need to bring -- to bring our men home. I don't like the idea of anybody else going over there. I don't like looking in the newspaper and seeing these -- leaving these families without a father, without a mother. I just don't like it. I don't like it at all.

Drawing parallels with Vietnam

Rev. Benjamin Broadbent
I will be crushed by the irony that someone would choose a military solution in the same month he receives the Nobel Peace Prize.

TOM BEARDEN: At Spencer's garden market, where people are already picking out Christmas trees, owner Dan Robinson agreed.

DAN ROBINSON: I'm from the Vietnam War era. That was a police action. I see this as a police action. I see no benefit to the people of the United States out of that at all.

TOM BEARDEN: There are some who say that, if we don't send more, that those who have already lost their lives will have wasted their lives.

ROBINSON: I.e. Vietnam.

TOM BEARDEN: That's the parallel you see?

ROBINSON: That's the parallel I see.

JACK MCENDRE, businessman: Flat on one side, but nice on this side.

TOM BEARDEN: Businessman Jack McEndre says, like many Colorado Springs residents, he's a conservative, didn't vote for President Obama, and disagrees with him about a lot of things. But he does support sending more troops.

JACK MCENDRE: I think the decision should have been made faster. But if we have got a mission of stabilizing Afghanistan and protecting our nation against terrorists, I think we better finish that mission.

TOM BEARDEN: More troops will do that?

JACK MCENDRE: I hope so. I have -- have to believe we have to listen to the military guys on the ground.

TOM BEARDEN: Many worshipers at the First Congregational United Church of Christ have been strong supporters of President Obama. Most applauded when Reverend Jim Broadbent called for a non-military approach to Afghanistan in his sermon. And Broadbent says most members will be very disappointed if the president goes through with the idea of a troop surge.

REVEREND BENJAMIN BROADBENT: President Obama said that he would not escalate either of the wars in which we're involved, that he would start to draw down troops. And, so, this doesn't feel like he's following through on that -- on that promise.

TOM BEARDEN: Also in his sermon, Reverend Broadbent told the members he cried when the president won the Nobel Peace Prize, hoping he would be moved to nonviolent policies.

REVEREND BENJAMIN BROADBENT: Perhaps I will cry again on Tuesday. I hope it's because I will be surprised by some new thinking on this now eight-year-old conflict. But I fear it will be because I will be crushed by the irony that someone would choose a military solution in the same month he receives the Nobel Peace Prize.

TOM BEARDEN: Liberal or conservative, military or civilian, one thing everyone we talked to agreed on: that the president needs to explain exactly what he wants to accomplish by sending more troops and what his ultimate plan is for getting them all out.