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American tanks return to Europe after brief leave

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Less than a year after they left European soil, American tanks have returned to military bases in Germany where they had been a heavy presence since World War II.

In April last year, the last Abrams tanks left Germany, coinciding with a drawdown of U.S. forces that saw the inactivation of two infantry brigades — the 170th and 172nd.

When the 22 M1A1 Abrams departed the continent it was seen as the end of an era, as tanks had been a fixture on American bases in Europe since landing at Omaha Beach in 1944.

Now, it appears that chapter of history may have been closed a bit prematurely.

On Friday, the last of 29 M1A2 SEPv2 Abrams tanks were offloaded at the railhead at the Grafenwöhr training facilities. These heavily armored vehicles are upgraded versions of the older Abrams that left 10 months ago and will become part of what the Joint Multinational Training Command at Grafenwöhr is calling the European Activity Set.

“The EAS is a pre-positioned, battalion-plus-size equipment set with headquarters pieces and command-and-control elements,” said Col. Thomas Matsel, operations officer with the JMTC. “Units that utilize the EAS will have access to the entire breadth of military operations they may have to conduct.”

The Abrams tanks will join 33 M2A3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and dozens of other heavy support vehicles that will be positioned at Grafenwöhr to be used at the training facilities there, at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels and at other training areas across Europe.

The concept of the EAS envisions units using the equipment in short stints before turning it over to the next group of troops.

JMTC officials hope the EAS will fill a gap in the capabilities of the training facilities that became apparent when the tanks departed last April.

“We have the best light infantry training facilities, the best medium training area with the Strykers,” Matsel said. “The only thing missing was the heavy piece.”

Several units are already scheduled to use the EAS. The 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, is first and will take temporary ownership of the vehicles, which will accompany them as they take part in three major exercises spanning from France to Latvia later this year.

darnell.michael@stripes.com

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