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Huge Europe changes: 35,000 people on the move

Mar. 26, 2013 - 07:06AM   |  
The "Any Mission Diner" closed its doors in Heidelberg, Germany, Sept. 21, after serving U.S. Army Europe and partner nation soldiers for more than 20 years.
The "Any Mission Diner" closed its doors in Heidelberg, Germany, Sept. 21, after serving U.S. Army Europe and partner nation soldiers for more than 20 years. (Spc. Joshua E. Leonard / U.S. Army Europe)
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The Defense Department on March 1 announced several moves and inactivations across U.S. Army Europe. The schedule:
Units inactivated:
• 170th Infantry Brigade, Smith Barracks, Baumholder, Germany
• 167th Medical Detachment (Optometry), Grafenwoehr, Germany
Units inactivated:
• 535th Engineer Company, Warner Barracks, Bamberg, Germany
• 12th Chemical Company, Conn Barracks, Schweinfurt, Germany
• V Corps Headquarters, Clay Kaserne, Wiesbaden, Germany
• 172nd Infantry Brigade, Grafenwoehr
• Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 391st Combat Service Support Battalion, Warner Barracks, Bamberg
• B Detachment, 106th Finance Company, Katterbach Kaserne, Ansbach, Germany
Returning to U.S.:
• 42nd Engineer Company, Warner Barracks, Bamberg
• 99th Movement Control Team, Aviano Air Base, Italy
Units inactivated:
• Headquarters, 18th Engineer Brigade, Conn Barracks, Schweinfurt
• 243rd Engineer Detachment, Conn Barracks, Schweinfurt
• 54th Engineer Battalion, Warner Barracks, Bamberg
• 370th Engineer Company, Warner Barracks, Bamberg
• 7th Signal Brigade, Ledward Barracks, Schweinfurt
• 72nd Signal Battalion, Ledward Barracks, Schweinfurt
• Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 95th Military Police Battalion, Sembach Kaserne, Kaiserslautern
• 630th Military Police Company, Warner Barracks, Bamberg
• 464th Military Police Platoon, Camp Ederle, Italy
• 511th Military Police Platoon, Livorno, Italy
Returning to U.S.:
• 541st Engineer Company, Warner Barracks, Bamberg
Units inactivated:
• 230th Military Police Company, Sembach Barracks, Kaiserslautern
Returning to U.S.:
• 3rd Battalion, 58th Aviation Regiment (Airfield Operations Battalion), Storck Barracks, Illesheim, Germany
Units inactivated:
• 69th Signal Battalion, Grafenwoehr
Returning to U.S.:
• 525th Military Police Detachment (Military Working Dogs), Baumholder
• 1st Battalion, 214th General Support Aviation Regiment structure is reduced at Clay Kaserne, Wiesbaden, by 190 soldier spaces and at Landstuhl Heliport by 50 soldier spaces.

The days of getting an assignment to many of Germany’s most storied posts are over. No more beer and wurst at Heidelberg, Schweinfurt or Mannheim and other spots long familiar to U.S. soldiers.

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The days of getting an assignment to many of Germany’s most storied posts are over. No more beer and wurst at Heidelberg, Schweinfurt or Mannheim and other spots long familiar to U.S. soldiers.

The Army is shrinking its footprint in Europe, moving as many as 10,000 soldiers and up to 25,000 dependents back to the U.S. and shuttering billions of dollars in facilities as part of a major overhaul of forces.

By 2015, the Army will have about 30,000 soldiers stationed at seven major installations in Europe — down from a post-Cold War high of more than 250,000 soldiers spread across 41 major garrisons. As the Army’s oldest and largest overseas command, U.S. Army Europe has been home to nearly 12 million soldiers and families over 68 years.

By 2015, the seven main garrisons remaining will be: Wiesbaden, Grafenwoehr, Ansbach, Stuttgart, Kaiserslautern, all in Germany; Vicenza, Italy; and Benelux, a union of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, headquartered in Brussels.

Assignments may be harder to come by, but the opportunities to train and work alongside international partners will remain.

The smaller force, which has been in the works for almost a decade, is “about the right size” for the Army’s mission in Europe, said Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell, commanding general of U.S. Army Europe.

“It gives us a forward-deployed presence with a smaller footprint, and we can still meet NATO and [Defense Department] theater security cooperation obligations and be able to respond to a contingency,” he said.

Keeping about 30,000 soldiers in Europe — including two brigade combat teams and a combat aviation brigade — gives the Army the flexibility to continue building relationships with its 51 partner nations while supporting key combatant commands such as European Command, Africa Command and Special Operations Command, he said.

“We’ll still have a very important mission, when you look at the units that are here and what we do to support all the [combatant commands],” Campbell said.

Key units that have been inactivated or will inactivate are the 170th and the 172nd Brigade Combat teams and V Corps headquarters, whose 700 soldiers are deployed to Afghanistan.

Those soldiers will transfer authority to III Corps in April, and the soldiers will return to Germany to reunite with their families and for reintegration, said Campbell and a senior U.S. Army Europe official who spoke on background to Army Times.

The corps’ flag will be inactivated in the summer, once the soldiers have reintegrated and been moved to their follow-on assignments.

“While they are now getting ready to redeploy, we’ve been working to make sure we take care of soldiers and families so that all of them have orders, all of them know where they’re going to go,” Campbell said. “We’re down to … making sure all of those soldiers know where they’re going after the unit inactivates in the summer.”

In addition to inactivating units and relocating some to the U.S., the Army is closing several main sites across its area of operations.

“Unlike during the Cold War, where you needed to be dispersed, and you didn’t want to clump people together as a target, now we’re consolidating wherever we can, to not only save money and reduce infrastructure but better take care of soldiers and families with better support services,” the senior official said.

Since 2006, the Army has closed 103 sites, equaling about $9.29 billion in replacement, the senior official said.

The Army is also closing its 48 facilities in Heidelberg, Mannheim and Darmstadt, and consolidating those assets into Wiesbaden, which U.S. Army Europe headquarters now calls home.

This saves about $112 million in base operations each year, the senior official said. The move to close these facilities began in 2004, and the soldier population there has already shrunk from about 7,000 to about 1,600 today, he said. The remaining soldiers are expected to be moved by August, the senior official said.

The Army also will close its posts in Schweinfurt and Bamberg by 2015, he said.

There are about 3,000 soldiers in Schweinfurt and about 2,600 in Bamberg, and they’re expected to be gone by August 2014, he said.

Regional alignment

One boost to the shrinking force in Europe is the Army’s plan to regionally align its forces with combatant commands around the world. U.S. Army Europe is planning to welcome elements of the 1st Cavalry Division, of Fort Hood, Texas, this fall to support key training missions and exercises, Campbell said.

As many as 800 soldiers from 1st BCT, 1st Cavalry Division — the brigade headquarters and a combined-arms battalion task force — are expected to spend about 60 days in Europe training with a number of partner nations in Hohenfels and Grafenwoehr, Germany. An element of those forces also will participate in Exercise Steadfast Jazz 2013 in Poland, he said.

After this initial group of soldiers completes its rotation, Campbell said he expects another group to arrive in the spring.

The soldiers who participate in the exercise in Poland will be part of the NATO Response Force, a long-standing NATO entity, the senior official said.

The U.S. last year announced it will contribute forces to the NATO Response Force to “reinvigorate” the group, the senior official said.

“We will use our regionally aligned forces to actually help us with the NATO Response Force reinvigoration by having them participate in some exercises,” he said. “They will not make up the NATO Response Force. They will be part of the [force] and will participate in their training and exercises.”

Supporting the NATO Response Force and maintaining a sizable force in Europe sends a strong message to America’s allies, Campbell said.

“The U.S. is still going to maintain a strong level of commitment to EUCOM and the European continent,” he said. “The intent is to build capacity for the future, to demonstrate versatility and responsiveness, and to really help with the theater security cooperation objectives here.”

Maintaining these relationships is critical as NATO’s International Security Assistance Force prepares to wind down operations in Afghanistan, Campbell said.

“We gain so much from bringing units [from the U.S.] in when we talk about interoperability, multinational operability,” he said. “It’s a great first step as we look to the future, post-ISAF, to do these things and stay connected with our NATO partners. We’re going to work hard to stay connected as we look post-ISAF.”

For the past decade, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have consumed the Army, and Europe-based units have rotated in and out of those theaters multiple times.

Even now, the 173rd BCT is wrapping up its latest deployment to Afghanistan, while the 2nd Cavalry Regiment is preparing to deploy, Campbell said.

“During the conflict, USAREUR played a major role,” the senior official said. “About 90 percent of non-U.S. soldiers that deployed to Afghanistan actually come from the European theater and are our partners on a routine basis, and almost all of them went through our [Joint Multinational Readiness Center] in Grafenwoehr.”

As the fighting in Afghanistan closes and the U.S. transfers security responsibility to the Afghans, relationships with America’s European partners must continue, the senior official said. “We don’t want the other countries to stop sustaining their capabilities that we just spent 11 years building and sustaining,” he said. “As we looked at our force structure, that was key and essential to ensuring we had the capacity here with our forces to engage our European allies.”

The result will give the Army the right force with the right capabilities, the senior official said. “We think we’ve got the force mix about right, and we’re setting the footprint so that we can reduce costs and do the smart thing for our country.”

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