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Snapshot: Local opinion on Obama plan to end Iraq war

Now that President Barack Obama has outlined the end of one of America's longest and costliest wars, Newsday has taken a snapshot of local opinions by talking to current and former soldiers, and parents of some of those lost on the battlefield. In a speech before Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., last week, the president said he would withdraw all combat troops by August 2010, and have the remaining 35,000 to 50,000 support troops out of the country by December 2011. If he holds to that timetable, U.S. troops will have been in Iraq for nearly eight years. So far, at least 4,255 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq since President George W. Bush sent troops there in March 2003.

TIM SCHERER

Age: 50

Home: East Northport

His son, Marine Cpl. Christopher G. Scherer, 21, was killed July 21, 2007, in

Al Anbar province, Iraq.

"It's not my expertise, but I think they should be coming home. I think they have accomplished what they were supposed to accomplish, which was to remove the insurgency and promote democracy. The surge was to drive out the insurgents and hand back the country to a stable government. But they should come home in the right manner. Not too fast, because you don't want to give up what they accomplished.

"The streets are safer, from what you hear from the other troops and from a photojournalist we had a conversation with who spent time over there. At one time, you couldn't go out into the streets at all, and now you can. The surge seems to have accomplished something, so it bought us the sense that our son didn't die for nothing.

"Like it was immediately after 9/11, if we could operate in the spirit of bipartisanship forever and put politics aside, that is what you want to see. I give Obama a lot of credit because I think he is listening to the advice of the generals and has made some concessions when he saw the facts on the ground in Iraq and has tried to work in a bipartisan manner. Now that he sees the facts, he seems to have decided on a withdrawal that won't be as quick as he first said it would be, and he's leaving 50,000 troops. I don't know what number it should be, but I'm glad that John McCain approved of it, because he's got experience with war.

"I feel Obama is listening and has made concessions. One of them is being able to take pictures of the coffins coming off the planes.

"I don't know whether I'm for or against the war. I just know I supported my son and I support the troops. It's not their decision whether they will be there or not. It's the president's.

"If you brought them out all at once, everything they did would disappear. That would be difficult for me, to see things go back to the way they were. But it's also scary to realize that when they are drawing those troops out, they are sending them to Afghanistan. I care about every one of them going, and I pray for them to be OK."

SGT. HORGER ARGUELLO

Age: 35

Home: Rockville Centre

A member of the New York Army National Guard, 69th Infantry Regiment, he lost two friends while serving in Iraq in 2004-2005. He recently returned from a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan.

"It's too soon. We should get out, but maybe in three or four years, in waves. It's got to be little by little, because if we do it too quickly, once they see we're out of there, it will start a civil war."

He said a precipitous withdrawal would undercut the achievements of the 4,255 U.S. troops who have died in the Iraq conflict.

"In a way, yes. All we have done up until now will have been for nothing. You have seen a little progress so far - Iraqi females being allowed to drive, Iraqi females going to school. I've seen some progress, but not the progress people back here want to see."

SPC. MARCIN PAWEZKA

Age: 21

Home: Centereach

Signed up for a six-year re-enlistment last year while serving in Afghanistan. He is a member of the New York Army National Guard's 69th Infantry Regiment.

He said withdrawing troops from Iraq would not dishonor those who have died.

"I don't think that has anything to do with it. They did their duty and sacrificed their lives so that other people can come home safe."

Pawezka said he would be glad to see troops come home, even though he doesn't think it should be done too quickly. "You can't pull everyone out at once.

"A lot of guys have deployed six and seven times. That's a lot of time away from your family.

"Hopefully, this whole thing will be over in Iraq. But I signed up to do a job, so if that's what it's going to take, I'll deploy over and over again."

MARK DUDENHOFFER

Age: 27

Home: Islip Terrace

Recently left the National Guard after serving tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 69th Infantry Regiment. Nineteen of his National Guard buddies were killed during his 2004-2005 Iraq tour.

"For us just to leave is a sour feeling because we lost a lot of guys over there and we put a lot of hard work and a lot of sweat into it. Guys take a lot of pride in that. To see it all go down like nothing, it would be a shame to see it go down like something like Vietnam, where the soldiers there, all their buddies there, all those hardships they went through are just words in a book sitting in a library. It's just a shame. I think we should stay there. I think we should keep a presence."

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