Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of the 7th Army Training Command.

Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of the 7th Army Training Command. ()

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The commander at the center of the biggest base expansion in U.S. Army Europe’s transformation said this week that new units, new services and new training techniques are changing more than just the physical makeup of Grafenwöhr-area bases.

An expected Stryker Brigade, an initiative to export American training and a focus on new techniques will be the basis of an evolved training zone that will leave the concept of the Grafenwöhr area as a tank maneuvering playground behind, Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of the 7th Army Training Command, said Tuesday.

The new model calls for facilities at Grafenwöhr, Hohenfels and Vilseck to be grouped under a single conceptual umbrella. They will be known as a “joint main operating base,” anchored by a yet-unnamed Stryker Brigade at Vilseck and a slew of support units — to be called “theater-enabling commands” — housed at Grafenwöhr, he said.

Hertling projected that three of the brigade-size commands would include engineer and military police forces, and be backed at Grafenwöhr by a number of smaller medical, transport and maintenance units, he said.

But Hertling cautioned that a decision on the future of who will take up residence at Vilseck — currently occupied by the 1st Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade — likely will not be announced officially until some time early this summer.

“Right now, it’s not firm what’s going to happen to [3rd Brigade],” Hertling said. There are options that may see the unit inactivated and moved to a new base, inactivated completely or kept right where it is. However, he said the third alternative is not a high probability.

He said the existing plan is to keep Vilseck and Hohenfels at their current sizes, while Grafenwöhr balloons to become one of the brightest gems in the Army’s European crown.

The isolated, 1,200-soldier garrison in northern Bavaria is about halfway through preparations for the expected influx of about 3,500 new active-duty troops and their families. The construction project will cost $600 million to $700 million when completed in 2009.

The base is also the center of Grafenwöhr officials’ plan to make the Army’s European training program less static, and move away from its image as a large, fixed installation for armored maneuvers.

Giving the facility a new name, the Expeditionary Training Center, officials intend to take their training capabilities on the road, transporting training programs and equipment to other bases in Germany and countries throughout Eastern Europe. Rough plans are also in the works for a program to train soldiers while they are in combat in the field, Hertling said, and Grafenwöhr officials have also set up mobile classrooms to train troops outside the garrison’s gates.

It’s part of a philosophy that Hertling said is the future for Army training in Europe.

“My guidance to the guys that work in 7th ATC is: When you think about training, don’t think about anything being nailed down,” he said. “If it can’t move somewhere else, then we’ve got to rethink how we do it.”

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