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An aide jots down notes as Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of Army forces in Europe, gets an earful from 1st Armored Division spouses in Baumholder, Germany, whose husbands have been extended in Iraq for an extra four months.
An aide jots down notes as Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of Army forces in Europe, gets an earful from 1st Armored Division spouses in Baumholder, Germany, whose husbands have been extended in Iraq for an extra four months. (Jon R. Anderson / S&S)
An aide jots down notes as Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of Army forces in Europe, gets an earful from 1st Armored Division spouses in Baumholder, Germany, whose husbands have been extended in Iraq for an extra four months.
An aide jots down notes as Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of Army forces in Europe, gets an earful from 1st Armored Division spouses in Baumholder, Germany, whose husbands have been extended in Iraq for an extra four months. (Jon R. Anderson / S&S)
Crickett LeMasters, wife of Lt. Col. Clark LeMasters, commander of 123 Main Support Battalion in Dexheim, Germany, offers a long laundry list of things that need fixing during a meeting Friday with Gen B.B. Bell in Baumholder, Germany. Bell is commander of Army forces in Europe.
Crickett LeMasters, wife of Lt. Col. Clark LeMasters, commander of 123 Main Support Battalion in Dexheim, Germany, offers a long laundry list of things that need fixing during a meeting Friday with Gen B.B. Bell in Baumholder, Germany. Bell is commander of Army forces in Europe. (Courtesy of U.S. Army)
Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of Army forces in Europe, and one of his top staff officers listen to a 1st Armored Division spouse during meetings with family support group leaders Friday.
Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of Army forces in Europe, and one of his top staff officers listen to a 1st Armored Division spouse during meetings with family support group leaders Friday. (Jon R. Anderson / S&S)

FRIEDBERG, Germany — Help is on the way.

That’s the message the Army’s top commander in Europe took to 1st Armored Division family members Friday.

In the wake of a four-month extension to the division’s combat tour in Iraq, Gen. B.B. Bell brought his top support staff in to deliver that message personally and tackle concerns, gripes and questions from family support leaders while, in separate meetings, issued stern marching orders to rear detachment commanders and local base officials to take care of the families.

Sitting on orange picnic tables in the Friedberg Fitness Center, family members, some rocking babies in strollers or cradling them in their arms, listened earnestly as Bell promised problems would be fixed.

“We will suspend the rules and cut through the red tape,” said Bell, promising them “real action, not a bunch of bullshit.”

Bell said he would reconvene his staff on Wednesday to run down the list of every issue raised and make sure that action was taking place.

“We’re not going to just check the block and say we did our part and then go on with our mindless business,” he promised.

“I know we cannot wait a month to solve your problems,” said Bell to another gathering. “I think 75 percent of the things that are bothering you we can solve by next week.”

Meanwhile, like only a four-star commander can, Bell fixed many individual problems on the spot, while jump-starting fixes for wider issues.

One rear detachment soldier told him that the Army was trying to send her away from Germany to her next duty assignment before her husband, also a soldier, returns from duty in Iraq.

Calling to his top personnel officer, Brig. Gen. Russell Frutiger, Bell said, “This soldier has got a problem that needs to be fixed right away. She’s getting screwed. … She’s going to stay here until her husband gets back.”

In Baumholder, one spouse complained there wasn’t enough busing for children in the outlying areas.

“Where is the [Base Support Battalion] commander?” fired Bell. “Just do it. Go get them buses.”

Those were the kinds of scenes repeated throughout Friday as Bell bounced from Friedberg to Baumholder, which are two of the division’s largest communities.

Among the issues Bell addressed:

• Stop movement — Many spouses are anxious about moving in time to get kids enrolled in new schools. The question for many is can they make the move before their husbands redeploy? “The answer is yes,” said Bell. “I don’t know how, but frankly I don’t give a damn. We’re just going to make that happen.”

• Airline refunds — Scores of spouses have had trouble getting refunds on tickets bought for vacations that will now have to be postponed. Many more have to pay penalties. Bell said U.S. carriers have been largely cooperative in waiving those rules, but some foreign operators have been more difficult. “We’ve got to go to these airlines and get the power of the U.S. government behind this,” Bell told a staff officer.

• Doctors — “When a wife is told to take their child out on the economy [for health care],” said one wife, “sometimes that’s enough to send that spouse right over the edge.” “We’ve got to solve this,” Bell told the commander of Army medical services in Europe, Brig. Gen. Elder Granger. “We need more reinforcements.” Granger promised more physicians would be on their way and, in response to another spouse’s complaint, more pediatric dentists would be arriving soon as well.

• Chaplains — “I know we have a chaplain and social worker problem,” said Bell. The reason, he said, is that as 1st AD was preparing to come home, 1st Infantry Division was on its way to Iraq and so counseling resources were shifted over. Bell’s top chaplain, Col. Kenneth Leinwand, promised more help would be found.

• Block leave — Many soldiers and family members have asked for an extended block leave period, beyond the standard 30 days built into USAREUR’s reintegration program for returning units. The 1st AD division commander, Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey, has recommended against that. “He needs to put the division back together,” said Bell. Instead, Dempsey has requested — and Bell has approved — 30 days of leave when the division returns plus another 15-day period over the Christmas holidays.

• Summer school — With soldier-parents away, grades are suffering among many children, said spouses. Bell promised to find a way to open summer schools for 1st Armored Division communities. Bell also said summer sport programs, hopefully lead by sport luminaries, would be offered as well.

• Sport schedules — One wife in Friedberg complained that the local schools were releasing the times for sporting events only within 24 hours of the games.

“We’re crazy, we’ve lost our minds,” roared Bell at Russ Hall, the Installation Management Agency director for Europe. Hall’s response was quick: “We’ll fix it now,” promising schedules six weeks in advance.

• Child care — Bell said more child care workers from the United States would be arriving soon.

• Space-A — Tasking one of his staff officers to try to persuade the Air Force to waive its rules for free space-available flights, Bell said: “Why are we Cat. 3 still?” The division families, he said, should be Category 2, which would bump division family members up the priority list.

• “Use or lose” leave — Bell announced that the Army has just approved pushing the maximum amount of leave soldiers can have in the bank from the current 90-day limit to 120 days.

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