German officials call for limits to exercises after damage
A soldier with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment circles the turret of an MGS variant Stryker armored vehicle during a live-fire exercise at the Grafenwöhr Training Area.
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — One of U.S. Army Europe’s largest maneuver exercises since the end of the Cold War caused extensive damage to fields, fences and bridges, according to local officials who are awaiting compensation and lobbying for a ban on future exercises conducted outside designated training areas.
After the mayor of a small community near the Hohenfels Training Area complained of damage from the October exercise and delayed compensation, a district official asked the Bavarian government to prohibit similar training — including a British exercise planned for May — calling the possibility of additional damage “shocking and unacceptable.”
The episode comes as USAREUR shows renewed interest in using swaths of the Bavarian countryside for large-scale maneuver training, much as it did during the Cold War.
“I expect that in the future those exercises will not take place anymore,” said Peter Braun, mayor of Markt Schmidmühlen, a town of 2,400 that sits on the northern edge of the Hohenfels Training Area.
Army officials say the German government has made no changes to rules governing the use of what are known as Maneuver Rights Areas, or MRA, regions of countryside where military training is permitted on a case-by-case basis.
Army officials says they have no control over the compensation process, which is being handled by the German government, and that they educated communities on the claim process before the exercise and tried to mitigate damages during it.
“I don’t necessarily think Mayor Braun speaks for that many people,” Col. John J. Strange, Hohenfels garrison commander said. “I think this is the exception rather than the rule.”
Braun’s anger, which he says is shared by residents across the Amberg-Sulzbach district in Bavaria, stems from the Army’s month-long “Saber Junction 2012” exercise, in which 1,700 participants from 19 nations simulated armored force-on-force fighting in and around USAREUR’s maneuver training grounds at the Hohenfels Training Area.
The exercise was notable for its use of a wide swath of Maneuver Rights Area between training areas in Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels, which allowed the Stryker armored vehicles driven by the 2nd Cavalry Regiment here to square off against mock enemy forces.
The result was rutted fields, broken fences and damaged bridges to the tune of 120,000 euros ($155,000), according to a letter written to the Bavarian government by Amberg-Sulzbach district representative Richard Reisinger. Braun says roughly 70,000 euros ($91,000) of the damage is in Schmidmühlen alone.
A claims process is built into MRA training, with the German government responsible for assessing damage, and reimbursements split between the country that caused the damage (75 percent) and Germany (25 percent).
Yet Braun is upset by delays in that process. As of Wednesday, only 120 of 449 damage claims had been paid out in the roughly four months since the end of the exercise, according to numbers the Army says it received from the German government. Snow covered the ground for many of those weeks making damage difficult to assess, both Army and German officials agree.
Strange and Braun also agree that the German agency tasked with assessing the damage, the Federal Authority for Real Property Administration, known as BiMA, has too few trained auditors for the kind of damage caused. Instead they sent auditors with other specialties, Braun said.
“The experts usually deal with damage caused by wildlife,” he said.
Braun also says more planning would have lessened damage, and he says Americans and multinational troops moved carelessly along roadways and over bridges.
“If you see a sign signaling the road is only for vehicles up to 5.5 tons, and you drive a tank of 30 or 40 tons on this road, it is clear that damage will be caused,” he said.
In his letter, Reisinger, the representative from the Amberg-Sulzbach district, says a British exercise planned for May means MRA in Amberg-Sulzbach could be used and damaged again. The Bavarian government later wrote in a statement to Stars and Stripes that planners have decided not to use the MRA within 15 kilometers of both Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels, an area that would include Schmidmühlen.
A British Army spokesman said the force is still requesting portions of MRA for the exercise, which is known as “Bavarian Charger” and could involve 1,500 soldiers.
Col. Curtis J. Carson, chief of staff of USAREUR’s training arm, the Joint Multinational Training Command, released a statement in response to a Stars and Stripes query saying officials have not delayed claims and do not have veto powers over the process.
“We hope to continue to provide this kind of training because it saves lives, it is among the most realistic training offered anywhere,” the statement read.
Saber Junction marked the Army’s renewed interest in force-on-force training after more than a decade of counter-insurgency operations, which officials say have degraded skills like large-scale command-and-control and maneuver tactics.
Although USAREUR often uses MRA across Germany, Saber Junction is the largest exercise of its scale since one of the final Return of Forces to Germany exercises, or REFORGER. Started in the sixties to send a message to the Soviet Union, REFORGER cobbled together a multinational force of thousands to maneuver in the German countryside.