DOD plan indicates 172nd and 170th infantry brigades to be eliminated
GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Two heavy Army brigades based in Europe will be withdrawn starting next year as part of the new defense posture, and while defense officials declined to name the units in question, Europe’s only two heavy brigades are the 172nd and 170th infantry brigades.
“The plan is to have one brigade to come out in ’13, and the second brigade would come out in ’14. That’s the current plan,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno told a news conference at the Pentagon on Friday. “They will come out of the force; they will not be restationed back in the United States.”
Odierno would not confirm which units would be withdrawn, but said the announcement would come “in a couple weeks.”
A U.S. Army Europe spokesman said he could not confirm the identities of the brigades slated to leave, as the command has yet to receive instructions from Army headquarters.
However, USAREUR posted the Stars and Stripes story about the brigades on its Facebook page with the comment: “News that affects the 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and 172 Infantry Brigade, Blackhawks. Stay tuned for more as it becomes available...”
The 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade is based out of Grafenwöhr and Schweinfurt, Germany, and the 170th Infantry Brigade is based in Baumholder, Germany.
The 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany, and the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy, would remain as the only Army brigades permanently based in Europe if the other two are removed.
The two heavy brigades number roughly 3,800 soldiers each, according to USAREUR. The majority of both the 170th and the 172nd are currently deployed to Afghanistan.
The disclosure Thursday came as the Defense Department previewed budget projections before the president releases the full budget request for fiscal 2013 on Feb. 13.
The garrisons in Grafenwöhr and Baumholder will remain intact, according to defense officials. DOD is expected to compensate for the loss of Europe-based troops by rotating in more U.S.-based units for short-term training and exercises.
Earlier this month, USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling told reporters in Grafenwöhr that the post, the Army’s largest in Europe, would likely host the same force numbers in the future.
“This is one of the installations where we want to maintain the number of soldiers we have regardless of the units,” Hertling said.
While Grafenwöhr has been designated an “enduring” community in Europe, Schweinfurt has not. Previous plans called for the 172nd to pull its subordinate units out of Schweinfurt and consolidate in Grafenwöhr, which was making room for the rest of the brigade.
A garrison spokesman in Grafenwöhr said he wasn’t aware of any planned withdrawals.
“There’s been no announcement given to us that anything here is going to be changing at all,” the spokesman, Mike Blass, said.
USAREUR spokesman Bruce Anderson said Friday that no official announcements have been made “about which units are leaving” or about “which units may be coming to Baumholder.” But, he noted, Baumholder is also one of the Army’s “enduring” installations in Europe.
“It’s going to be there,” he said. “There are units on the base that don’t belong to the brigade.”
In Baumholder, some were excited about the news, others disappointed. Many wondered about the next step. None of those interviewed had been officially informed of an impending move.
Maiyse Torres, whose husband is part of the brigade, said she hopes her daughter will be able to graduate next year from Baumholder High School.
Thirteen months into their first overseas assignment, Torres isn’t happy at the prospect of leaving Germany before their three-year tour is up.
“It’s upsetting,” she said. “I actually love Germany.”
The news of the brigade’s departure, however, wasn’t a surprise, Torres said. Her husband found out from his unit last month that the brigade would be leaving, she said, after he returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.
The family is stepping up travel plans, trying to take in as much of Europe as possible, she said, “because this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
But Lesley Torres, who is not related to Maiyse, does not share that enthusiasm.
“I think they’re doing the right thing,” she said. “I don’t think this place was meant for families.”
Lesley Torres said she learned the brigade was departing when the Stars and Stripes article announcing two Army heavy brigades would be leaving Germany was posted Friday morning on a Baumholder spouses’ group Facebook page. She and her husband, an Army sergeant currently deployed to Afghanistan, however, have heard nothing official.
“A majority of my friends, we were hoping Baumholder would be the one to go,” she said, citing lack of employment opportunities for spouses and difficulty finding childcare as among challenges she’s encountered.
For Baumholder native Ulrike Mueller, it feels as though she is losing family.
“I grew up with Americans,” said Mueller, who works at the Kohl bakery in front of the post exchange. “It’s like a family here. I don’t want them to leave.”
Anticipation that one, or both, brigades might leave has generated hand-wringing in German communities around Grafenwöhr, where economies depend heavily on the garrison.
In addition to the brigade, the Grafenwöhr garrison also houses the 2nd Cavalry Regiment and has a population of roughly 42,000, which includes posts in Rose Barracks, Hohenfels and Garmisch, according to the garrison.
The military community in Baumholder numbers roughly 14,000, including families and civilians, according to base officials. Of the 4,500 soldier authorizations for the garrison, 3,800 belong to the brigade, according to USAREUR.
It’s possible Baumholder could host rotational units in the future, or be home to Army logistics units from elsewhere in Europe, since USAEUR’s logistics hub is right down the road from Baumholder in Kaiserslautern, Anderson said.
Jennifer Svan reported from Baumholder. Stars and Stripes’ reporter Chris Carroll contributed to this report.