Archive for Sunday, August 10, 2003

Soldiers’ absence to hit hard

New deployment will further empty Junction City

August 10, 2003

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— Walk around the streets here and you sense some unease. That's because you can't walk very far before bumping into a soldier, a soldier's spouse, a soldier's family.

While large-scale combat has ended in Iraq, Junction City continues to feel its effects. With the announcement Wednesday that an additional 3,000 soldiers will be deployed from nearby Fort Riley to the Persian Gulf region at the end of the month, it means Junction City streets will be even emptier.

"The whole atmosphere has changed," said Barry Arp, a Junction City resident who owns an auto repair shop in nearby Ogden. "A lot of people are somber. Even the kids. With school about to start, there's going to be a lot of kids without their parents.

"It's not over until the soldiers come home. There's soldiers still dying over there."

Already, 3,500 forces from Fort Riley are deployed in the region, so the fort, with a normal population of 10,500, will be half-empty by Sept. 1. Nobody knows what the plans are for the other half.

"This town is starting to realize how much we depend on the military here," said Deb Marquess, director of social services for the Salvation Army in Junction City. "Now we've got 3,000 more fixing to leave. As far as the businesses in town, we're all hurting."

Randy Tholstrup, owner of Military Outlet, fretted while the soldiers shopped.

"You just really don't know what to expect," he said.

The store was stocked for training, not for war, he said. Thursday, Tholstrup sold out of portable showers, a must for a soldier in the sands of Iraq.

"We sold 20, but I wasn't prepared for the run," he said.

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