STUTTGART, Germany — A new NATO land command headquarters, restructured to streamline costs and decision making, will be activated next week in Turkey as the new home for planning how infantrymen from the 28-nation alliance fight together.
As the war in Afghanistan winds down, one of the prime focuses of NATO Allied Land Command will be harnessing that war fighting experience to ensure that the alliance doesn’t lose the lessons learned, said the American Army officer commanding the new headquarters in Izmir, Turkey.
Coming off more than a decade at war, the level of “interoperability” among NATO members is at an all-time high, Lt. Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges, said.
“My job will be to maintain that level of interoperability,” Hodges said. “You’ve got to retain this experience, and a lot of that resides in the noncommissioned officer corps.”
Following an activation ceremony on Friday in Izmir, Allied Land Command headquarters will formally assume the responsibilities of Force Command Heidelberg, Germany, and Force Command Madrid, Spain, which are being deactivated as part of NATO’s transformation. A similar merger of Air Command headquarters formerly in Turkey with one in Germany is taking place at Ramstein Air Base.
The Allied Land Command is responsible for ensuring readiness of NATO forces, conducting land operations and synchronizing land force command and control.
Hodges said he intends to discuss with his alliance counterparts ways to bolster the role of the enlisted force in their respective militaries and emphasize the advantages of putting “more and more responsibility on NCOs.”
While the U.S., Germany and the United Kingdom have a long tradition of well-developed NCO corps, not all allied militaries have a history of pushing significant decision making power onto the enlisted ranks.
Another area of focus for Hodges is lobbying for a U.S. policy change that currently limits tours in Izmir to one-year unaccompanied missions for U.S. personnel. To ensure the U.S. can attract the best troops to the command, tours in Izmir should become accompanied and extended like other alliance members’ tours, according to Hodges.
“The current policy hurts our effectiveness,” said Hodges. “I think it marginalizes the American contribution to some extent.”
After long separations from family during more than a decade of war fighting, some troops also could opt against enduring another separation for an assignment in Izmir, Hodges said.
As a result, “all that experience isn’t taken advantage of,” Hodges said. “And frankly it is hard to explain to other countries.”
The proposal is currently being considered by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Hodges said.
Meanwhile, Hodges said he hopes to develop an exercise that would bring together allies in a rugged environment to test their logistical and communication abilities.
For NATO reaction forces to be effective, “we’re going to have to ramp up some of our training,” he said.
While NATO may not have the resources to bring back something on the massive scale of the Cold War-era Reforger exercise, ground troops would benefit from getting together for a major logistics event, Hodges said. “You’ve got to apply rigor to truly test logistics.”
The transformation of NATO’s Land Command is just one part of a 2011 NATO decision designed to streamline the alliance’s overall command structure. Once fully implemented, it will result in a 30 percent reduction in manpower, taking Allied Command Operations from 13,000 personnel to about 8,800, according to NATO.
The new Land Command will have about 350 people, down from roughly 800, Hodges said.
Establishing the headquarters in Turkey — home to NATO’s second largest military, makes good strategic sense, Hodges said.
“Turkey’s location from a geographic standpoint — adjacent to the Middle East, nearly adjacent to Russia — it’s an important location,” Hodges said. “It sends a signal not only to Turkey and the rest of the alliance. It sends a signal to the other neighbors.”