HEIDELBERG, Germany — Soldiers based in Baumholder and Schweinfurt probably will take yet another turn in Iraq or Afghanistan before their division, the 1st Armored, relocates to the United States.

Furthermore, as the U.S. Army adds 65,000 soldiers to its ranks over the next five years there’s a strong chance that thousands of them may end up in Europe — Germany in particular. That could negate or offset the need for deeper cuts, no matter if 1st AD stays or goes.

“The ‘Big Army’ is looking everywhere, because they literally have to,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, the operations chief and deputy chief of staff for U.S. Army Europe.

Army facilities are “crowded right now in the United States, based on moving folks back,” Hertling continued. “Now they are going to add [about] six more brigades, so [Army officials] are looking for what are the options for this. We’ve talked about [Europe as an option] a lot recently.”

Since August 2005, Hertling has been at the forefront of the most sweeping changes to hit USAREUR in a generation. The 1st Infantry Division has left Würzburg for Kansas, and except for Wiesbaden, every major Army base in the German state of Hessen is closing or will close. Additionally, troop levels by autumn will have dropped from 62,000 just a few years ago to about 45,000.

Hertling, who is scheduled to take command of the 1st AD in two weeks, recently sat down to discuss USAREUR’s 2008 transformation and rebasing plan as well as the current operations tempo. He was joined by his successor, Brig. Gen. David Perkins.

Look for the 2nd Brigade, 1st AD to return to Iraq for a third tour sometime in fiscal 2008, Hertling said. The unit returned from Iraq in November after spending a year there.

“This is the plan,” Hertling said. But there is “nothing locked in concrete, in terms of an order to return to combat.”

Asked if troops of the 2nd Brigade, 1st ID out of Schweinfurt, which is currently on its second tour in Iraq, also would take another turn downrange, Hertling said that’s the current thinking. Before that happens, however, the unit will case its colors and reflag as the 3rd Brigade, 1st AD after it returns later this year.

“Right now, we have been told to keep them around for another turn before we return them to the States,” Hertling said. “Now that’s based on a couple of things, too, by the way. That’s not only based on the operational requirement for continuing to send brigades to the war, but it’s also based on the fact that they flat-out just don’t have the construction to receive them at Fort Bliss, Texas.

“I was at Fort Bliss a few months ago and they are building strong, but they are not going to have it ready for that entire division to move in.”At least not by 2009 as originally planned, Hertling indicated.The delay, coupled with the Army’s decision to increase the active-duty force by 65,000, has USAREUR officials discussing the very real possibility that more soldiers would remain in Europe than originally intended. The current plan calls for reducing the U.S. Army presence in Europe to about 28,000.“There’s just the flat-out physics of it all of where you put people,” Hertling said.

He added that it’s also a matter of balancing the manpower needs of Iraq and Afghanistan versus the enduring missions of the U.S. military in Europe, such as theater security and engaging allies.

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