BAUMHOLDER, Germany — A year ago, the 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s footprint covered more than half of this sprawling base.
Now the equipment is all turned in — more than 47,000 pieces of it. Most of the troops are gone — about 4,500 of them. There is no brigade headquarters anymore. No battalions. No companies.
All that’s left of what used to be the 170th now fits in one building near the back of the post. The brigade was the first of two Europe-based combat brigades the Pentagon planned to dismantle. The 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade at Grafenwöhr is to be gone by next October, leaving two combat brigades on the Continent.
“This is the last of us,” said Capt. Blake Huff, 30, officer in charge of the 16th Transition Support Team at Baumholder.
As of Thursday, there were 89 soldiers left on the unit roster. Some, like Huff and Master Sgt. Leonardo Salazar, are transition team cadre. The rest are troops in various states of transition or limbo. Some didn’t have enough time left on their enlistment contract to justify sending them anywhere else, so they’re just biding their time until they get out. Some were held over for medical reasons. Others got into some kind of trouble and are awaiting their fate.
Technically, none are part of the 170th anymore, but they’ll still wear the unit’s patch until sometime in February, said Salazar, 36, the transition team’s top enlisted man. Then, the last few hangers-on will don the patch of the 16th Sustainment Brigade.
Salazar, from Nogales, Ariz., and Huff, of Mesquite, Texas, will be around until the middle of next year, they said. It’s likely Salazar, whose daughter is a high school senior, will be the last 170th soldier to leave, Huff said.
Spc. Nicholas Anna, 28, from Annapolis, Md., will be long gone before then.
“Tomorrow’s my last day in the Army,” he said, smoking a cigarette outside the lone stone-and-cement building the remaining 170th soldiers call home.
About two weeks ago, the last of his 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, buddies left the post. Now his days are consumed by three-a-day accountability formations and generous amounts of Hulu, the online television site. So, he’s looking forward to getting out of here, too, he said.
“I think the hardest part was saying goodbye to all my colleagues,” said 1st Lt. George Johnson, 26, of Kansas City, Mo. “Saying bye to all those guys that kind of put all their blood, sweat and tears into inactivating this unit; it was kind of hard.”
As of about a week and a half ago, he became the last of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment soldiers still in a “present for duty” status, he said. Throughout the inactivation, he’d worked harder than he had during the brigade’s year in Afghanistan, he said. Sitting in the departures terminal at Ramstein Air Base for his flight to the U.S., he said being the last man standing from 3-4 had been an honor.
But to be the last one “to lock the door and turn off the lights is a bitter feeling as well,” he said.
Huff said saying goodbye was the hardest part for him, too, “but as the last people here, you know, you have to say goodbye every day.”
“It’s like Maj. (Stephen) Harper, the brigade doc, said before he left,” Huff chuckled. “I feel like I’m at a party and everyone else leaves and then I turn out the lights and realize it’s not my house.”