Mideast edition, Saturday, July 21, 2007

SCHWEINFURT, Germany — The Pentagon is considering stopping the drawdown of troops in Europe, Gen. Peter Pace told an open house of soldiers and spouses of deployed soldiers on Friday.

Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that location of troops in the future will be based on numerous factors. Among them: the military’s commitment to ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, accommodation of planned increases to the size of the Army and Marine Corps, and the availability of housing and training facilities.

“Obviously, here in Germany if we were to want to either maintain the current size or increase it, we would want to have that discussion with the German government and get in agreement with them,” Pace said.

“Right now, I can tell you for sure that we (Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey and Pace) are looking at the future lay-down of forces globally and [asking], ‘Does it make sense to continue to drawdown in Europe, or does it make sense to stop the drawdown?’”

The Army had about 250,000 soldiers stationed in Europe for four decades. After the Cold War ended, through the 1990s and early 2000, the number was reduced to about 64,000.

Three years ago, the Army announced it would eventually draw down to 28,000 soldiers in Europe by around 2010, and it started moving troops and units back to the U.S.

Currently, about 45,000 soldiers are based in Europe. The Navy and Air Force have been undergoing a similar transformation in Europe.

Pace was speaking Friday at an open house at Conn Barracks in Schweinfurt, home of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. Most of the division’s soldiers have been deployed for one year to Iraq, mostly to Baghdad and Ramadi.

The military community here has been hit especially hard, with more than 50 of its soldiers dying in combat.

The audience peppered Pace with questions for more than an hour before the session ended.

Someone asked what would be done to treat post-traumatic stress disorder when the 3,000-plus-soldier brigade returns to Schweinfurt after spending 15 months in Iraq?

It was noted that the nearest military hospital, in Würzburg, is now a clinic and no longer taking in-patients.

“Army leadership is taking this problem very, very seriously,” Pace replied. “The fact that we know how many individuals are impacted is a new phenomenon,” citing statistics that have been compiled on the number of sufferers.

Another Army wife asked about the status of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles that would eventually be sent to troops for whom roadside bombs are a daily threat.

Pace said money has been allocated for the first 7,774, but that the Army has said it needs an additional 17,000 better-armored vehicles of various kinds. He said these vehicles are continually evolving, technologically.

“I don’t want to mislead you — the MRAP is very, very fine vehicle,” Pace said. “But if we could put each one of your husbands inside his own tank, that is not going to prevent all injuries.

“At the end of the day, in a counterinsurgency environment, you absolutely must get out of the vehicle, walk amongst the people, and let them know you are human being, and be part of that society.”

Pace said that Ramadi, where much of the 2nd Brigade has been working, is a success story. Earlier this week, Pace said he was walking down the street there.

“Three months ago if you told me I’d be walking the streets of Ramadi without fear of being shot at, I’d have said you were nuts,” Pace said.

Pace credited 2nd Brigade soldiers for working with local Iraqi leaders to build more peaceful conditions in Ramadi, once a stronghold for insurgents who opposed U.S. forces and the Iraqi government that was stood up after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

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