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Watertown, New York Welcomes Troop Withdrawal Announcement

Statues on Watertown, New York's town square speak of honor, country, and wars fought in the past
Statues on Watertown, New York's town square speak of honor, country, and wars fought in the past

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Jeff Swicord

As President Obama announces his plan to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, military communities around the country welcome the news.  Watertown, New York, is near Fort Drum, home of the Army's 10th Mountain Division, which has been in constant deployment during the past decade. 

The walls of the American Legion Hall in Watertown, New York, are adorned with photographs of local men and women who have served their country during war.  Many paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Phil Gary served in the Navy during the Vietnam War.  He said he is in favor of President Obama's plan to start withdrawing thousands of troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.  Many of those troops are from the Army's 10th Mountain Division, stationed nearby at Fort Drum.

“No matter what time in the world it is or what year in the world it is, there is always going to be a conflict," Gary said.  "I believe they are always going to ask for help, along with the United Nations and other countries so, are you asking me if I agree with it?  Yes, because I believe in our president and he directed it.”

That sense of duty is not uncommon in this part of the country.  Watertown is a small industrial city along the Black River, where conservative values run strong, and there is a long history of military service.  Statues on the town square speak of honor, country, and wars fought in the past.  

That tradition has been shouldered by the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division.  Many live in Watertown.  They were among the first units to go to Afghanistan.  Some soldiers have served  three deployments in the past decade.  Watertown Mayor Jeffrey Graham says both the Afghan and Iraq wars have been hard on the community.

“I think that most people, not just Watertown because we have a military presence here, but most people in this country are really getting fatigued by these constant wars," he said.  "It is perpetual war.  And the casualties, the expense, the deployments.  I think people would just like to see an end to it.”

Michael Oquendo, Adonis Frias Rodriquez, and Lewis Paulino are active duty Fort Drum soldiers, who live in a small community just outside the base.  They returned from a one-year deployment to Afghanistan two months ago.  They hold different views on the troop pullout, but they say that is not uncommon within the military.  Michael Oquendo says the pullout is a bad idea.

“At some point I think we should stay, because we have achieved a lot," he said.  "And by us pulling out right now like that, and leaving everything like it is.  It is not a good idea because the U.S. is making stuff happen there.  Connecting the villages, connecting everything together.  Making the country come together.”

Lewis Paulino disagrees.  He says the United States has too many problems at home.

“We have got so many problems here,." he said.  "I think it is more important than take care of problems from another country ... here we have got a lot of stuff to do.”

But all three young soldiers say that if called upon, they would deploy again.  Because that is what soldiers do, they say, serve with honor.

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