STUTTGART, Germany — It’s official: The Germany-based 170th Infantry Brigade will be inactivated later this year, followed by the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade next year as part of a broad restructuring of the military force structure in Europe that also calls for the inactivation of two U.S. Air Forces in Europe squadrons and the eventual elimination of the Army’s V Corps from Wiesbaden, Germany, according to Pentagon officials.
As part of the restructuring, the Army garrisons in Schweinfurt and Bamberg will close no later than 2015, U.S. European Command announced. The 81st Fighter Squadron, an A-10 unit consisting of 525 airmen from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and the 603rd Air Control Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy, consisting of 336 airmen, will be inactivated by 2013.
“The [Defense] Department will begin a theaterwide capacity analysis as part of a comprehensive consolidation of its overseas infrastructure in light of these force posture changes,” EUCOM stated in a news release. “The result could be further infrastructure adjustments.”
Last month, the Defense Department announced it would be eliminating two heavy brigades in Europe, but that announcement stopped short of naming the specific units. Still, with only two such brigades in Europe, it was no secret that the 170th, based in Baumholder, and 172nd, out of Grafenwöhr and Schweinfurt, were pegged for elimination.
In addition, U.S. Army Europe is slated to lose another 2,500 soldiers from small support units over the next five years, military officials said. For the Army, it all adds up to a 25 percent reduction in manpower in Europe.
Currently, about 80,000 U.S. troops are based in Europe. The changes outlined by the Pentagon will reduce that number by more than 11,000.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, during a joint news conference Thursday with German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere, said a substantial force will remain in Europe.
“Despite these changes,” he said. “over 40,000 U.S. troops will still be based in Germany, training at state-of-the-art facilities.”
Maiziere, meanwhile, described the Pentagon downsizing in Europe as a move from “quantity to quality.”
“The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany is no complaint to me because a lot of troops will remain in Germany,” Maiziere said.
Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of USAREUR, said the reduction would pose some limits on the Army’s ability to train with allies though the units that remain will continue to play a key role in maintaining those relationships.
“It’s not going to really hurt, but we are going to have to reduce our partnerships,” Hertling said in an interview with Stars and Stripes.
Other Europe-based Army units also are critical to training allies, such as missile defense teams and signal troops, who do everything from preparing partners for an emerging missile shield mission to countering a growing cyberthreat, Hertling said.
“In the conflicts of the future it’s going to be the other enablers that help us as much as a brigade combat team,” Hertling said.
As part of an effort to achieve efficiencies, the Defense Department intends to supplement the missions with rotational troops from the States. The rotational mission is still in the early planning stages, Hertling said.
Hertling detailed how the restructuring of Europe-based units will unfold over the coming year.
Though the 170th Infantry Brigade, which includes roughly 3,800 troops, will be eliminated by this summer, the Army’s garrison in Baumholder will remain open. The brigade will be replaced by logistics and engineering elements currently stationed at Schweinfurt and Bamberg, Hertling said.
“Baumholder will reduce significantly,” said Hertling, referring to a 40 percent cut to the Army’s footprint in the community.
The move will leave Baumholder with 2,000 soldiers and about 3,000 family members, according to USAREUR.
The 172nd Brigade, which is headquartered in Grafenwöhr and also has troops stationed in Schweinfurt, will be inactivated by summer 2013, Hertling said. The community, however, will not see a significant loss of troops.
“Grafenwöhr is our most important enduring community,” Hertling said. “We will try and keep Grafenwöhr at capacity, because of the excellent facilities, excellent housing and the training opportunities.”
Other units will likely be added to Grafenwöhr to fill the hole left by the departure of the 172nd, and some of those troops could be from “combat units,” Hertling said.
V Corps, which is slated to deploy to Afghanistan later this year, will be inactivated when that deployment ends, Pentagon officials said. Once the soldiers now assigned to V Corps, a headquarters of about 750 soldiers, leave Afghanistan, they will be assigned to other units.
It was just last month, when Lt. Gen. James L. Terry took command of V Corps, that Hertling referred to it as rising “from the ashes like a Phoenix,” referring to a decision to maintain the Army’s only permanently forward-deployed corps, which originally was slated for inactivation in 2009.
U.S. Army Reserve units at various bases in Europe could be relocated elsewhere on the continent, according to USAREUR. However, the number of units and soldiers assigned to those units is not expected to change.
Europe could see some modest additions in the future as the Defense Department looks to forward-deploy more special forces soldiers to Europe and beyond.
“We will enhance regional special operations forces’ responsiveness by continued partnership with the NATO Special Operations Forces Headquarters,” EUCOM stated.
In addition, one battalion-sized task force, drawn from a U.S.-based heavy brigade combat team slated to serve as part of NATO’s Response Force, will conduct multinational training exercises with allies, EUCOM said.
Since 2006, USAREUR has closed nearly 100 sites with a replacement value of more than $9 billion as part of our ongoing consolidation and transformation. USAREUR is also in the process of closing an additional $5 billion worth of infrastructure in the Mannheim and Heidelberg area, which will result in annual savings of more than $100 million.
Hertling said he expects this round of troop cuts to be the last for now, although he acknowledges that the military mission in Europe has its skeptics. With just two brigades left, some of those critics may question why the Army still needs a large training center in Grafenwoehr and other Europe-based units.
“There will be a lot of number crunchers who will ask that, and there also will be a lot of people in Congress who will ask that,” Hertling said. “That was one of my concerns as I was fighting for the organizations to remain here.”
The Pentagon restructuring comes as it seeks to trim $487 billion from its budget over 10 years. The plan also foresees the closing of bases in the United States. That has prompted some in Congress to press for deeper cuts in Europe.
“And what I would say in response is there is a mission-set associated with the combatant commanders’ requirements,” said Hertling, referring to the work USAREUR does in support of commands ranging from European and Africa Command to Cyber Command and Special Operations Command, which maintains forces in Stuttgart, Germany.
“What I would suggest to you is special operating forces aren’t going to get anywhere. They’re not going to connect signal-wise, they’re not going to have the sustainment support unless [USAREUR] is there to do it for them,” Hertling said. “So it’s great if you have a bunch of guys with green berets running around, but unless they get a whole lot of support from USAREUR, they can’t do it.”