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Navy, Air Force in Europe retain four-stars

An Air National Guard F-16C taxis down the ramp at Mirgorod Air Base, Ukraine, preparing to be intercepted by Ukrainian SU-27s during Safe Skies 2011. Safe Skies 2011 is a joint Ukraine, Poland, U.S. aerial exchange event.

STUTTGART, Germany — As the Pentagon presses forward with a cost-savings plan to trim the size of its general officer corps, two Europe-based service components will remain four-star-led commands — at least for now.

Nearly two years ago, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced sweeping plans for fewer senior officers, including downsizing commands in Europe to three-star billets.

“It is also no longer necessary to retain four-star service component headquarters for the Army, Navy and Air Force in European Command, each of which is too large and too senior given the number of troops they lead and the military operations they oversee,” Gates said at the time.

The Army was quick to oblige, sending Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling in March 2011 to command U.S. Army Europe — the military’s largest component on the continent. Hertling, who retired last month, was the first three-star general, rather than four-star, to command USAREUR since the 1950s.

The other services have not followed suit. Two months after issuing his January 2011 directive, Gates had second thoughts about making U.S. Navy and Air Forces Europe three-star operations “due to operational requirements,” Eileen M. Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “These commands will be periodically reviewed as European operational requirements change.”

Of the 952 general and flag officer positions, 125 slots were slated for elimination over a two-year period, starting in 2011. Sixty-eight of those posts have been abolished and 24 have been reduced to lower-grade positions as planned, Lainez said.

Most of the remaining jobs are war-related positions that will disappear from the rolls as the war winds down.

“We are eliminating the positions as the incumbents depart, and reducing personnel through normal attrition processes (retirement, etc.),” Lainez said in an email. “Additionally, the services are simultaneously reducing their promotion selection rates to reflect the lower number of future authorizations.”

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A recent Stimson Center report — written by a team of experts that included retired Gen. James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — suggests there is more cutting to do when it comes to restructuring the headquarters in Europe.

“Additional reductions in military personnel based in Europe are possible through the streamlining of command structures,” the report stated.

Russell Rumbaugh, Stimson Center’s director of budgeting for foreign affairs and defense, said the report didn’t make specific recommendations for streamlining headquarters in Europe. Certain areas would be obvious candidates, such as downsizing the components to three-star billets as USAREUR already has done, he said in an email to Stars and Stripes.

The Army, which after a series of planned reductions will go from 42,000 soldiers to 30,000, remains the largest component in Europe, followed by the Air Force with about 25,000 airmen. Naval Forces Europe will see modest growth when four missile defense-equipped destroyers and an additional 1,300 sailors arrive in Rota, Spain, by 2015, but even then it will be the smallest of the three major components. NAVEUR’s commander, Adm. Bruce W. Clingan, currently oversees about 8,000 personnel in Europe.

In an interview with Stars and Stripes earlier this year, former USAFE commander and current Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said military leadership elected to keep USAFE as a four-star command for “one more cycle.”

“The reason is to get the transition into NATO’s ballistic missile defense command-and-control capability firmly on track up until initial operational capability” about three years from now, Welsh said in April.

Meanwhile, USAFE’s current commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove, is charged with overseeing a smaller Air Force as USAFE prepares to inactivate two squadrons: the 81st Fighter Squadron, an A-10 unit consisting of 525 airmen at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and the 603rd Air Control Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy, consisting of 336 airmen.

Stars and Stripes reporter Jennifer Svan contributed to this report.

vandiverj@estripes.osd.mil
 

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