BAGHDAD, Iraq — U.S. Army Europe soldiers stationed in Iraq may not know when they’re going home. But at least now they know where they’ll be going home.

Gen. B.B. Bell, the U.S. Army Europe commander, acknowledged in an open letter to his troops published in today’s edition of Stars and Stripes that there likely would be changes to the command’s force structure in Europe. It’s all part of the transformation plan that the military has been working on and could affect the 100,000 troops stationed in Europe.

Bell said no decisions have been made on specific changes such as base closures or relocating units. But he said soldiers will be given time to adjust to whatever decisions are made.

“I’d like to quell at least one rumor that has already made the circuit, and that is the notion that selected forces currently deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom will be sent directly back to CONUS [the United States], leaving families in Europe to fend for themselves,” Bell writes. “That simply will not happen.

“Regardless of any relocation decisions, soldiers will be returned to Europe to be reunited and reintegrated with their families.”

That message was received as good news by a handful of troops interviewed Friday. One of the most prominent rumors is that the 1st Armored Division, currently deployed in and around Baghdad, will leave Germany and be sent back to the States.

“I believe it’s excellent news,” said Sgt. 1st Class Javier Trevino of the Hanau-based 2nd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment. “We still have families back in the rear. It would be better for them for soldiers to return and help them move, if that turns out to be the case.”

The battalion’s commander, Lt. Col. Jim Schrote, went a step further. He said he thought it was important for Germany-based units “to have some closure.”

“I don’t want to leave [for the States] from here,” he said. “We need to go home and close the bases in Germany if [moving] turns out to be the case.”

Schrote said the Army has been in Germany for decades and has made good friends in all of the communities it does work in. He said if bases close, units need to take part in ceremonies as a way of saying goodbye.

Some soldiers said they had prepared for the worst, though.

Spc. Nicolas Kayler called Bell’s words “good news.”

He said his wife, Kelly, “could handle [the move]. She’s a strong person.” But he said she’d be happy to have her husband’s help.

Capt. Stephanie Savell and her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Doug Savell, are both helicopter pilots in the division’s 4th Brigade. Since they’re both in Iraq, moving would be problematic. But the couple had already given it some thought before deploying.

“I’ve given the power of attorney to our neighbors already,” Stephanie Savell said. And the couple’s two dogs were sent back to the States as well, because the division didn’t provide a firm date on when soldiers would leave Iraq.

Since, as Bell states, no decision has been made on relocating specific units, those dogs may even have a return flight to Germany in their future, just like their two-legged friends.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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