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U.S. Soldiers in Bosnia Sure They’ll Stay, No Matter What

November 7, 1996

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Only a few of the U.S. troops serving in Bosnia stayed up late to learn who would be president. The answer to the most pressing question for them _ would Washington bring its troops home? _ was a given: Not yet.

President Clinton ``promised we would all be at home by Christmas,″ said Sgt. Barry Spurgin, watching the returns on television early Wednesday with five other soldiers in the mess hall at U.S. headquarters in the Tuzla air base.

``Why would you make a promise like that, if you’re not going to keep it?″ asked Spurgin, recalling Clinton’s pledge that they would all be out by Dec. 20.

A disillusioned Spurgin, now on his second tour of duty, said he voted for the losing candidate, Bob Dole.

Several soldiers with the so-called ``cover force″ of about 5,000 troops currently being deployed to ensure a smooth transition as the initial U.S. force pulls out said they had no idea how long they would be staying.

``It would be nice to know a date,″ said Army Spc. Jeremy Schweigert, a native of Detroit.

Two men serving with the 12,000-member U.S. contingent who did lose sleep to follow the election returns were candidates for local office back home.

For Lt. Col. Jim Harrison, a Republican seeking re-election to the South Carolina House of Representatives, and Lt. Col. William E. Weikert, a Democratic candidate for circuit court judge in Dubois County, Indiana, the evening was a success.

Urgent calls home to their wives, who ran their campaigns while the reservists were in Bosnia, confirmed both won easily.

For Harrison, the tour as civilian liaison changed his mind about the U.S. deployment to Bosnia.

``Initially, when I came over, I wasn’t optimistic it would be successful,″ said Harrison, who expects to be home by December. ``I gradually came to feel we’ve given them a chance to have peace.″

But if peace is going to last, he said, U.S. troops will have to stay another six months to a year. After that, he hopes the Europeans will see it as their mission and stay as long as necessary.

For some soldiers, helping to bring peace to Bosnia was reward enough.

``We came here for human rights,″ said Cpl. Len Butler of the Texas Army National Guard.

``People here were dying. We came to do our part,″ said Butler, who whooped ``I feel good, I feel good!″ watching as Clinton’s lead grew.

Pfc. Felipe Paul of Detroit said he hoped the winner _ no matter who that turned out to be _ would come to visit the troops.

``Don’t forget about us,″ he said.

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