HEIDELBERG, Germany — During the next year, Army garrison commands in Europe will undergo changes to standardize structure, return troops to combat units and reorganize the civilian work force.

The Installation Management Agency-Europe, which oversees base operations, announced plans Thursday to merge base support battalions in Heidelberg, Hanau, Kitzingen, and Vilseck with nearby area support groups. The changes are part of an Army effort to transform base commands worldwide into standard garrisons organizations. Currently, IMA is made up of seven area support groups and 15 base support battalions.

The move will be the Army’s first major organizational change since 1991, when the current battalion and group structures were created, said Steven Pratt, an agency comptroller.

Prior to that, the Army simply had separate military communities.

“We’re going back to the community garrison approach,” Pratt said.

No bases will close and the changes are not related to the Army transformation plan, said agency spokeswoman Millie Waters, referring to ongoing discussions in the defense community to shift Europe-based U.S. troops to the States or Eastern Europe.

Under a separate Army initiative, IMA-Europe will transfer roughly 550 of its 1,000 military slots to civilian posts, allowing troops to return to tactical units, Pratt said. The Army is looking to remove soldiers from base support jobs that civilians can perform in order to form additional combat brigades, officials said.

Each military position is under review, and the changes should coincide with the soldiers’ departure for their next assignment, officials said.

In fiscal 2004, the Army budgeted $1.5 billion to run its 234 bases in Europe, Pratt said. The military-to-civilian conversions will add roughly $20 million to next year’s budget.

Meanwhile, streamlining base structures into garrisons will cut 350 civilian jobs, about 4 percent of the agency’s current work force of roughly 10,000 civilians.

But, overall, the number of civilian positions is actually expected to increase, Pratt said. The command should have about 200 new jobs to offer civilians, coming from the 550 positions now being held by soldiers.

The positions are under review to see whether they will be offered to U.S. civilians or local nationals.

As a result of the mergers, some civilian jobs may shift to other Army communities or job descriptions may include new responsibilities.

Soldiers and families should hardly notice the changes, which should be in place by the summer of 2005, Waters said.

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