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European edition, Friday, September 14, 2007

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — When Baumholder Mayor Volkmar Pees weighs whether the 1st Armored Division, 2nd Brigade will continue to call his town home, he finds reassurance in something U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. told him years ago.

At the time, Casey was serving as commander of the 1st Armored Division.

“He always said, ‘As long as Ramstein exists, Baumholder will never be closed,’” Pees recalled.

Fast forward to 2004, when Pees went to Washington as part of a delegation advocating for the Army’s continued presence in Baumholder. During that visit, Pees met Casey again.

“He said, always remember what I told you those years ago,” the long-serving mayor said from his office earlier this week.

Today, the Army’s future in Baumholder remains in limbo as the Pentagon continues to mull future troop-strength levels in Europe. But unlike a few years ago, there now seems to be growing optimism that U.S. Army Garrison Baumholder isn’t going anywhere.

Some Army officials even sound confident Baumholder will eventually achieve “enduring status.” The topic emerged at a recent garrison meeting, where local Army leaders and families gathered for a regular briefing on various issues.

Col. Raymond A. Thomas III, an assistant division commander for the 1st AD and brigadier general selectee, made his thoughts known at the meeting. After issuing the caveat that nothing is official, he told the Army families in attendance: “Be prepared for enduring status here in Baumholder.”

Further, he added, “I expect to see changes for the better” in quality-of-life amenities that would come with the status.

For the German community, enduring status means the region’s leading economic engine will continue to pump millions into the local economy.

For Army families, such a decision could result in such things as food court options and better workout facilities.

With enduring status, for instance, the garrison will seek approval for a $7.3 million plan to upgrade its gyms.

Also at the meeting, Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Derek R. Rountree echoed Thomas as he discussed the gym projects and other potential improvements.

“Knock on wood, when enduring status comes around,” a Subway sandwich shop and carwash will be on the way, Rountree said.

The Pentagon continues to weigh U.S. European Command recommendations regarding future troop strength. The recommendations were part of a troop-to-task analysis EUCOM commander Gen. Bantz J. Craddock ordered. The analysis was delivered June 26 to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

As part of a militarywide transformation that began taking shape in 2002, plans were announced to reduce the Army’s troop strength in Europe from 62,000 soldiers to 24,000 by around the year 2010.

Craddock told Congress in the spring that under current transformation plans, he was concerned there might not be enough Europe-based troops for EUCOM to carry out its missions, primarily its European and African theater security efforts with nations in those regions.

As for Pees, a continued Army presence in Baumholder is about more than money and jobs. The Army is part of the town’s identity and cultural fabric, he said.

So how likely is it the Army will stay?

Pees’ answer is cryptic: “More than a 51 percent chance,” he said.

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