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Staff Sgt. Carlos Gomez, 33, of Laredo, Texas, buys lunch from Armen, left, and Olga Oganesian at the Ararat kebab stand in Grafenwöhr on Wednesday. Armen Oganesian says Americans account for about one-half of his business.

Staff Sgt. Carlos Gomez, 33, of Laredo, Texas, buys lunch from Armen, left, and Olga Oganesian at the Ararat kebab stand in Grafenwöhr on Wednesday. Armen Oganesian says Americans account for about one-half of his business. (Seth Robson / S&S)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The U.S. Army is the third-largest employer in Bavaria when troops from other parts of Europe come to train at Grafenwöhr and Hohenfels, according to data released by the Joint Multinational Training Command.

At “surge capacity” — with up to 18,000 troops training at Grafenwöhr’s JMTC and Hohenfels’ Joint Multinational Readiness Center — the U.S. Army in Bavaria employs more than 33,000 people including U.S. military and civilians as well as local nationals, the data shows.

That would make the Army the third-largest employer in Bavaria after car maker BMW and mobile phone company Siemens. When no outside units are training in Bavaria JMTC is the ninth-largest employer in the state.

And the Army’s impact in Grafenwöhr will only grow over the next few years due to a $1 billion base-expansion project — Efficient Basing Grafenwöhr, or EBG — which by itself employs more than 3,300 Germans. The expansion will see an additional 3,000 permanent troops and 4,000 family members move here over the next few years.

Green uniforms are a regular feature at lunch time in the Ararat kebab stand just off post near Grafenwöhr’s Gate 1. Ararat owner Armen Oganesian, an Armenian, said Americans account for about one-half of his customers.

Locals say the Army is by far the most important industry in the Oberpfalz region that surrounds the U.S. bases at Grafenwöhr, Vilseck and Hohenfels and takes in the larger nearby towns of Regensburg, Amberg and Weiden.

“[The U.S. military] is a priority. This region doesn’t have big industrial firms like Siemens. The biggest advantage for the region is the U.S. forces,” said Grafenwöhr software designer Gerhard Pfenning.

To help U.S. soldiers and local businesses stay in touch, Pfenning recently started a Web site — www.grafenwoehr.com — that includes yellow-pages listings for American-friendly local businesses.

Pfenning said he makes some profit from advertisements sold on the Web site but that he started it as a hobby and to help Americans new to the region.

“I was born here and know the good places to see. There are a lot of Americans coming, and I thought they need a lot of information about German culture and where to find things,” he said.

Another Grafenwöhr local, Tobius Schemnner, 26, agreed on the importance of the U.S. forces to the local economy. Schemnner, whose parents both work on post at Grafenwöhr, is surveying U.S. soldiers and civilians who work on post about their off-post spending habits.

Schemnner said he wants to find out where Americans shop — on post, off post or on the Internet — so he can write a thesis as part of his economic geography studies at the nearby University of Bayreuth.

Joseph Karl, public affairs chief for the Oberpfalz Administrative District, said the construction industry in Bavaria is benefiting from the military buildup at Grafenwöhr.

The local industries that benefit the most from the U.S. presence include car sales, tourism, restaurants and food, he said.

Rainer Pappenheim, a press officer for the Bavarian Staatskanzlie (Chancellery), said official German figures show the U.S. Army employs 5,800 Germans in Bavaria (slightly less than the 6,049 quoted by the Army as working at Grafenwöhr, Vilseck, Hohenfels and EBG).

“There are of course more jobs in the Bavarian economy, which depend on the U.S. Army’s activities — for example, in construction companies, contractors, shops and services — but we are not able to quantify this,” Pappenheim added.

The Army’s most significant impacts are in the construction sector, catering industry and shopping centers, but the impact is also not quantifiable, he said.

About 20,000 Americans live off post in Bavaria — more than the number of U.S. soldiers stationed here. And there are many U.S. civilian employees and retirees who live in the region, he said.

Economic Impact

nThere are 1,402 U.S. military members stationed in Grafenwöhr, but that number is expected to triple over the next few years. There are also 1,347 German employees at the base, 2,925 family members, 284 U.S. civilian employees and 467 contractors at the base.

nEfficient Basing Grafenwöhr, a $1 billion construction program to expand the base, involves 14 German companies employing 3,300 workers. The base has room for almost 12,000 more troops from other parts of Europe at camps Aachen, Algiers and Normandy during training cycles.

nAt Vilseck, the influx of 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment soldiers last summer saw troop numbers climb to 3,823. They are joined by 668 German employees, 6,092 family members, 267 U.S. civilians and 549 contractors.

nAt Hohenfels, 1,317 servicemembers are joined by 734 German employees, 2,426 family members, 259 U.S. civilians and 639 contractors. During training cycles, troop numbers there can be boosted by 6,000.

nThe Department of Defense spent 248 million euros (about $332 million) on its German workforce in Bavaria in fiscal 2005, along with 116,000 euros to pay 60 percent of the cost of a German apprentice program at Grafenwöhr.

nThe DOD spent more than $1.8 billion euros buying goods and services in Germany in 2005, its largest expenditure on overseas goods and services after Iraq.

nOther data released by the Joint Multinational Training Command shows U.S. forces for the whole of Germany employed more than 20,000 locals last year making them the fourth largest U.S. employer of Germans in the country after McDonald’s (50,000 German employees), Ford (25,000) and Opel (24,200).

— Stars and Stripes/Source: U.S. Army

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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