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Army medicine moves west as Heidelberg shuts down

By MATT MILLHAM | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 23, 2013

HEIDELBERG, Germany — The presence of Europe Regional Medical Command was probably never the most noteworthy thing about Nachrichten Kaserne.

If there’s one thing people know about the base, it’s probably that Gen. George S. Patton died here Dec. 21, 1945, 12 days after breaking his neck in a freak car accident.

But the medical command, which had its headquarters here since 1997, cased its colors in a ceremony here Tuesday, marking yet another small milestone as the U.S. Army transfers bases — and the bits of history they contain — back to German hands.

“This is part of transformation,” Col. Jeff Clark, commander of ERMC, said after the ceremony. “We’re doing what we need to do at this point in time, I think. But that doesn’t mean there’s not an element of sadness to it.”

The medical command’s move from Heidelberg to Sembach, where it will uncase its flag Wednesday, is just a small part of the Army’s larger transformation in Europe, which will reduce the service’s footprint on the continent from about 40,000 soldiers to about 30,000 by 2015.

The move won’t change the size of ERMC, just shift it from one place to another. Still, this is a sentimental moment for ERMC and Clark.

“The center of the leadership of Army medicine in Europe has always been in Heidelberg,” Clark said.

The titles of those leaders and names of the commands have changed numerous times over the years — ERMC itself came into existence only in 1994 — but “coming to Germany and coming to Heidelberg was one of the plum assignments. That’s where you wanted to go.”

But, Clark said, the command isn’t losing capability in its move to Sembach, on the outskirts of Kaiserslautern, which the Army has tagged as one of its seven enduring communities in Europe.

“From an Army medicine in Europe perspective, we’re deeply committed to ensuring patient-friendly access to high-quality healthcare, whether your installation is getting smaller, whether it’s getting larger, or whether it’s going to close over time,” as Heidelberg will, Clark said.

Along with the recent deactivation of a NATO headquarters down the street from Nachrichten Kaserne at Campbell Barracks, Heidelberg Mayor Eckart Wurzner said the city is at a historic turning point, one that will leave the city without a military presence.

“Therefore, lots of changes will come to our city, but also to our American friends. Because through this change, you will find another hosting city here in Germany.”

millham.matthew@stripes.com
Twitter: @mattmillham
 

Col. Jeff Clark, commander of U.S. Army Europe Regional Medical Command, and Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Luciano present a gift to Heidelberg Lord Mayor Eckart Würzner. It reads in part, "We lost our hearts in Heidelberg."
MATT MILLHAM/STARS AND STRIPES

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