Bill seeks halt to Europe base closures
By STEVE MRAZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 18, 2009
A congressional effort aims to halt future closures of U.S. military installations in Europe if the measure becomes law.
Dubbed the NATO First Act, House Resolution 2797 would "fortify America’s trans-Atlantic security links with our European allies and partners," according to a press release from Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, a co-sponsor of the bill.
More so, the bill calls for maintaining the current basing arrangement of U.S. military installations in NATO-member countries in Europe unless a host nation requests closure or the U.S. secretary of defense determines such facilities unnecessary.
The bill has been referred to the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees. Congressmen successfully added language from the NATO First Act into the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, according to congressional staffer speaking on background Wednesday.
Some of the language added relating to the current U.S. basing arrangement in Europe was changed to say that if the Defense Department decides to close a U.S. military installation in Europe it must report to Congress how that closure would support Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, the peace and security of Europe and the current security environment, the staffer said.
Earlier this week, U.S. military officials in Europe declined to discuss the pending legislation.
However, Gen. John Craddock, commander of U.S. European Command, has on repeated occasions called for a stop to the troop drawdown.
In testimony submitted to Congress in March, Craddock made his case once again.
"Retention of EUCOM’s forces at the current level will enable the accomplishment of assigned missions and tasks," Craddock testified.
EUCOM’s transformation plan includes keeping eight fighter aircraft squadrons in the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, Craddock said.
"For ground forces, it includes two permanently stationed infantry brigade combat teams — a Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Germany and an Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Italy — along with two heavy brigade combat teams in Germany," Craddock testified.
"Although these two brigades are scheduled to return to [the U.S.] in 2012 and 2013, I have recommended and continue to recommend that we retain them in EUCOM."
Since 2003, EUCOM has closed 43 bases and installations and returned some 11,000 servicemembers and 16,000 family members to the States. Current EUCOM force strength consists of roughly 84,000 military members.
While the NATO First Act was not introduced in the House of Representatives until June 10, the U.S. Army Europe commander, Gen. Carter Ham, said last month that he and his staff were following the existing mandate for transformation of U.S. military forces in Europe. Ham’s comments came during a wide-ranging discussion with Stars and Stripes’ editorial board on May 29.
Ham acknowledged some tweaks were in the works, principally the one-year delay for inactivating V Corps. Ham referred to the transformation moves as the "base plan" for U.S. Army Europe.
That plan calls for closing Heidelberg and Mannheim and shifting assets and people to Wiesbaden, the future home of 7th Army.
The delay concerning V Corps does not mean the decision to move out of Heidelberg is being reversed, Ham said.
"It’s a pause to allow some national decisions to be made," he said.
Currently, there are about 42,000 soldiers based in Europe.
That number is supposed to drop to about 32,000 by 2013-14, according to the existing plan, which includes moving the 1st Armored Division back to the States.
Stripe and Stripes reporters Kevin Dougherty and John Vandiver contributed to this report.