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Last major units close up shop at US Army Garrison Schweinfurt

Maj. Gen. John R. O'Connor, commanding general of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, hands the 15th Engineer Battalion colors over to Col. Zane Jones, commander of the 18th Military Police Brigade as part of the inactivation ceremony for the 18th Brigade at the Schweinfurt Army Garrison, May 16, 2014. The 15th Engineers now fall under the command of the 18th Military Police Brigade.

SCHWEINFURT, Germany — The last two major tactical units at U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt were inactivated during double ceremonies held Friday, months ahead of the final closure of the base in September.

The 18th Engineer Brigade, the 7th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade and the 72nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion cased their colors, symbolizing what is essentially the end of 70 years of U.S. military operations in Schweinfurt.

“This is just another step in the transformation of our Army here in Europe and our Army as a whole. We’re winding down from a period of conflict and it makes sense that we’re downsizing and reshaping our force,” said Col. Scott Peterson, commander of the 18th Engineers. “It’s been a great ride, and I’m really proud of the soldiers here in the brigade and these battalions.”

Peterson spoke at the casing ceremony for his unit’s colors. The gathered crowd packed the stadium, and soldiers from across the base stood on the outside of the fenced-off area. For the soldiers of the 18th Engineers, the deactivation — the fifth in the unit’s 93 year history — felt like the breaking apart of a family.

“There’s definitely a sense of pride to be able to conduct this and to be, for now, among the last members in the brigade,” said Master Sgt. Timothy Bare, the current operations staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the 18th Engineers. “We have a good group, a close-knit group. It’s a real family feeling.”

The Schweinfurt garrison closure is part of the U.S. military’s realignment across Europe. The training facilities at Hohenfels, Germany, cased their colors on Tuesday as part of the continuing consolidation of several independent training facilities under the USAG Bavaria umbrella. September will also see the closure of the Army garrison in Bamberg, though the 54th Engineer Battalion that was stationed there inactivated in April.

While some troops will remain at Schweinfurt until it is officially shuttered on Sept. 30, the inactivation of the units signify the departure of roughly 95 percent of the base’s population. Already, some 10,500 troops have left the area since the announcement of the base’s closure in February 2012. Schweinfurt’s mayor, Sebastian Remelé, attended both ceremonies and said the exodus of American troops is both a blessing and a curse for the area.

“It’s an end of a chapter, because the Americans were here for 70 years, so they were part of this city, part of this community. We had a real good relationship with the Americans, the soldiers and their families. So this is a sad moment for us,” he said. “But for sure, we have to look forward — we also see a chance to develop Schweinfurt using this new area.”

Proposed plans include bringing an international campus to the Ledward Barracks, an industrial park where Conn Barracks now stands and building housing throughout Askreren Manor and Yorktown village.

While the town looks toward a future without the American presence, soldiers like Sgt. Maj. Stephfon Watson look back at their time in Germany with mixed feelings.

“You still got the same pride in the organization that you had the day you came into it,” he said. “And you hope you leave it better on the way out the door. I think I did that, I think we did that as a team.”

Separately, the Army garrison at Baumholder, which lost its primary tenant unit in 2012 at the start of the current round of cuts, will inactivate on Thursday. Lt. Col. Michael Sullivan, who took over the garrison in the midst of the 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s inactivation, will relinquish command of “The Rock” at the same ceremony.

While there have been questions about Baumholder’s long-term prospects, the Army is still investing in infrastructure projects and base improvements. Work is expected to start soon on a project to replace a number of bachelor quarters on the garrison’s Smith Barracks with more than 100 modern townhouses.

Stars and Stripes reporter Matt Millham contributed to this report.

darnell.michael@stripes.com

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