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2 Europe-based BCTs pack to move out

Oct. 13, 2012 - 09:47AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 13, 2012 - 09:47AM  |  
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The first of two brigade combat teams to be cut from U.S. Army Europe cased its colors Oct. 9, marking the halfway point in the complex process of moving more than 8,000 soldiers and their families, and accounting for and turning in thousands of pieces of equipment.

The 170th BCT was inactivated during a ceremony Oct. 9 in Baumholder, Germany. The other brigade, the 172nd BCT, will be inactivated in October 2013.

The cuts, announced earlier this year while both brigades were still deployed to Afghanistan, are the first in the Army's plan to eliminate at least eight BCTs and shrink the active-duty force from about 560,000 soldiers to about 490,000 over the next five years.

In all, U.S. Army Europe is slated to lose about 10,000 soldiers — the two brigades and up to 2,500 soldiers from smaller units — leaving the command with about 30,000 soldiers.

While the 170th has officially been deactivated, there is still some work to be done, said Col. Mark Raschke, the brigade commander.

"We'll still have a small cadre … that will continue to resolve any unresolved issues through the late November, early December time frame," he said, adding that the brigade divided the complex task into three main areas: personnel, equipment and facilities.

About half of the brigade's soldiers redeployed from Afghanistan in December as part of the initial drawdown of troops, Raschke said. The rest of the brigade got home to Baumholder in February after serving primarily in Afghanistan's Regional Command-North, he said.

As the soldiers returned, they underwent reintegration and then block leave to reunite with their families before beginning to deactivate, Raschke said.

Many of the soldiers were already scheduled for a permanent change of station, as is typical after a deployment, Raschke said. But others had to be processed for a follow-on assignment either elsewhere in U.S. Army Europe or back in the U.S., he said.

"A lot of folks started to depart simply because that was their time to depart," he said, adding that most soldiers received PCS orders to units in the U.S.

The brigade then identified about 200 soldiers to make up the cadre required to stay behind to finish up the inactivation process, Raschke said.

They include a company commander and first sergeant team for every battalion; medical, signal and intelligence staff; and personnel and supply specialists.

The 170th went from a high of about 4,600 soldiers to less than 600, Raschke said.

As the soldiers returned from block leave and prepared to PCS, the unit moved about 800 soldiers every month from May to September, he said. In July and August, the brigade moved more than 2,000 soldiers.

"We tried to build a rhythm," he said. "A large part of our movement out was just natural because a lot of those individuals who came down on orders or have school-age children or follow-on Army schools took advantage of the summer months to PCS."

The unit then focused on turning in its equipment.

"We started off with more than 40,000 pieces of equipment when we returned from Afghanistan," Raschke said. "Now we're at just over 400."

The unit turned over most of its wheeled and track vehicles before deploying because they did not need those vehicles in theater, he said.

Most of the brigade's equipment was turned in by August, except what the staff needs for its day-to-day operations, such as computers and office supplies, Raschke said.

In terms of facilities, the brigade worked closely with garrison staff and incoming units to consolidate their facilities and free up space on post, Raschke said.

This included consolidating office buildings and barracks rooms, and turning over motor pools, about 250 primary facilities in all, he said.

Raschke and remaining cadres are working to close out a series of issues until the unit is dissolved.

This includes soldiers waiting to be moved to a warrior transition unit, soldiers who have legal issues, last-minute work on facilities before they can be turned in, and handing off the brigade's missions to other units at Baumholder.

"The hardest part is people, and what I've always told everyone is the brigade is on a set timeline, and every individual soldier has their own timeline," Raschke said.

The brigade is working hard to make sure every soldier is taken care of, Raschke said.

"We're scrubbing every record to make sure they have everything they need," he said.

The 172nd

Soldiers at the 172nd, who are now undergoing their own inactivation, will take a page from the 170th.

"I led a team to link up with Col. Raschke and his team to learn as much as we could," said Lt. Col. Rafael Paredes, deputy commander of the 172nd.

The brigade's almost 4,000 soldiers, who are based in Grafenwoehr and Schweinfurt, returned this summer after a yearlong tour in eastern Afghanistan.

The plan is to inactivate the brigade's battalions in June and leave a small cadre in place until October, Paredes said.

As for personnel, "we are looking at losing about 25 percent of the soldiers per quarter," he said.

"What that will do is minimize the disruptions to the community and allow the garrisons and agencies that support the soldiers and families to process them through the system," Paredes said. "One of the last things we want to do is have the soldiers leave at the last minute or have 1,000 soldiers leaving in one month."

As many as 1,000 soldiers will have left the brigade by the end of October, Paredes said.

Like the 170th, most of the soldiers from the 172nd will PCS back to the U.S.

Some have requested to stay in Germany.

"It's a work in progress," Paredes said. "We're working their assignments with their branches."

Brigade leaders also expect some soldiers will remain in Germany through late next year for various reasons — medical, disciplinary action or pending investigation, for example, Paredes said.

"We are working hard to process all these soldiers so we don't leave them for somebody else," he said.

As for its facilities, the 172nd has about 33 percent of its soldiers in Schweinfurt's Ledward and Conn barracks, Paredes said.

The garrison in Schweinfurt is slated to close by 2015, so the brigade is consolidating into Ledward as the soldiers wait to PCS, and turning over its facilities at Conn, Paredes said.

The rest of the brigade is based in Grafenwoehr, and those facilities are being turned over to incoming units, he said.

The brigade turned in its first building in early October, with more scheduled in November and December.

The 172nd also turned in most of its wheeled and track vehicles before deploying, leaving them with about 41,000 pieces of equipment that must be turned in next year.

Paredes expects most of the unit's equipment will be turned in by March.

"We should be down to 25 percent of personnel, and the footprint will be much smaller in terms of facilities," he said.

Meanwhile, the brigade's missions continue — it continues to support training exercises in Germany, France, Bulgaria and Turkey, Paredes said.

"We are definitely busy, but the good thing is nobody is shooting at us," he said.

Inactivating the brigade is bittersweet, Paredes said.

"You hate to see the units you served with disappear and go be part of history, but it's part of our system that people move on anyway," he said. "This brigade performed superbly and it's done great things in the last few years. With its history in Alaska and Germany, and fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's got a rich history."

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