The Army Town

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"Now my husband's home," says Tabitha Minto, "And he's about to get out of the military. …We're gonna go to school and try to figure out something better to do with our lives than stay in the military."

Tabitha's in nursing school. Her husband, Specialist Byron Minto, is going to work every day at Fort Bragg with the 35th Signal Brigade. He's in the last days of his four-year enlistment. When that's finished, he'll use the GI Bill to get an electrician's degree at Fayetteville Technical Community College. Byron says early in his tour in Iraq, he came close to re-enlisting.

"Because they were offering a big cash bonus," says Byron.

Tabitha adds, "A friend of ours got $10,000 for re-enlisting over there."

"And that's tax free, so that's kind of hard to turn down, I guess," says Byron.

The military has increased re-enlistment bonuses during the Iraq war. Soldiers in some jobs can get up to $50,000. The services are meeting their goals for re-enlistments. But new recruits are staying away in a time of dangerous and repeated deployments to the Middle East. In the first eight months of the 2005 fiscal year, the Army missed its recruiting goals by more than 15 percent. The Pentagon's stop-loss policy has kept thousands of soldiers on active duty after completing their enlistments. The policy won't affect Byron.

"I just feel like I'm really lucky that I got back at a time when they were actually going to let us out," says Byron. I just couldn't imagine being gone for another year and missing my son grow up."

Byron and Tabitha's son, Cameron, was two months old when Byron was sent to Iraq for what turned out to be a 15-month tour. That long separation soured the couple on the military, especially Tabitha.

"It's just not the life for us, really," says Tabitha. "Not for me anyway. It's too hard on families in my opinion."

Byron says he's proud to have served his country. He says the Army helped him grow up, not to mention the college money and a V.A. loan that he and Tabitha used to buy their ranch house. Byron was 23 and delivering pizzas when he signed up. But officials at Fort Bragg will tell you that a married soldier's decision to re-enlist, or not, is usually a joint one. The spouse often tips the scales.

"You have to put family first," says Byron, "and if she's 100 percent against it, then I couldn't really re-enlist without, you know, getting a divorce. So I decided to stick with my wife."

They both laugh.

Continue to part 8

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