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Campbell cites successes as he prepares to leave USAREUR, military

USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell and Lt. Gen. Anatoliy Pushniakov, Ukrainian land forces commander, listen as Secretary of the Army John McHugh answers a journalist's question at Exercise Rapid Trident near Yavoriv, Ukraine, Sept. 19, 2014.

MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES

By MATT MILLHAM | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 16, 2014

WIESBADEN, Germany — Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr.’s tenure as commander of U.S. Army Europe — which ends next month when he retires — has arguably carried more risk and uncertainty than that of any of his recent predecessors.

When he came into the job two years ago, a massive downsizing was underway and the threat to European security from Russia seemed to have receded into history.

Now, as he is set to step down on Nov. 5, new threats lap at the Continent’s southern and eastern frontier, with Islamic militants fighting along the border of NATO ally Turkey and Russia backing a separatist war in Ukraine.

Today, USAREUR has about 29,000 soldiers, roughly a tenth of what it had at the Cold War’s peak. Yet, despite its diminished size and the growing number of contingencies it has to respond to, Campbell remains optimistic that the U.S. and its allies in the region will persevere.

“I don’t wake up every morning thinking, ‘Am I deterring Russia?’ ” Campbell told Stars and Stripes Wednesday moments after stepping off a flight from Latvia, a country that borders Russia. U.S. troops have deployed to Latvia and two other Baltic states in response to Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine.

“I wake up every morning saying, ‘Are we doing the right thing from a training and readiness’ ” standpoint?

If the Russians were to step into NATO territory, “I think you would see a pretty swift reaction, not only from the U.S. but from NATO allies.”

USAREUR’s job these days isn’t about deterrence, Campbell said. With two ground combat brigades and an aviation brigade, the command has fewer combat troops than the roughly 17,000 Russia has massed on Ukraine’s border.

What USAREUR does is provide reassurance to regional allies.

Within weeks of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, USAREUR deployed soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to train with the armies of NATO allies closest to the conflict.

That was reassuring to Maj. Gen. Almantas Leika, Lithuania’s land forces commander, who said then that the U.S. deployment “shows that we can rely on our ally.”

“This is a very clear signal, and we read the signal very clearly,” he said.

This show of combined resolve does more to deter potential aggressors than anything the U.S. could do unilaterally, said Campbell, who will hand over USAREUR command to Lt. Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges, who now heads NATO’s Allied Land Command in Turkey.

Campbell points to a ceremony he attended Tuesday in Latvia, where U.S. infantry companies swapped out to continue the training mission. Such a small force would typically garner little to no media attention, but 24 news outlets attended the event, Campbell said.

“Half of them were Russian-speaking. If, in a small way, it does deter something, that’s fine,” he said, but he’s more concerned about training and readiness.

To that end, the U.S. has been engaged in a flurry of exercises across Europe, including in Ukraine.

Operation Atlantic Resolve, the mission to reassure the Baltics and Poland of NATO’s commitment, continues with the U.S. at the forefront. Campbell said he would like to see more participation from other NATO countries.

“But I’m not going to point or single out anyone. I think everybody’s doing what they can right now. And they understand the importance of the mission and where it’s going and what we can do.”

He won’t criticize Turkey either for its tepid response to Islamic State militants pressing against its — and thus NATO’s — southern border.

The U.S., along with Germany and the Netherlands, rushed Patriot air defense missile systems to Turkey’s border with Syria in early 2013, just after Campbell took command of USAREUR. Turkey asked for the deployments, which continue today, when cross-border shelling from Syria’s civil war made it seem that conflict might spill into the NATO ally’s territory.

Now, the U.S. is rallying a coalition to counter the Islamic State, which is broadly seen as a greater threat to regional and global security.

“I believe in the end run they’ll do what’s right for Turkey and they’ll do what’s right for NATO,” Campbell said. “And I’m optimistic that will include supporting the fight against ISIL,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

Two months before Campbell took command of USAREUR, Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, handed him a letter. It contained three main points, Campbell said: Improve USAREUR’s relationship with U.S. European Command, enhance interoperability with NATO and take care of families and soldiers.

The command’s efforts over the last year have highlighted its success in meeting the first two objectives, Campbell said, but the job of taking care of soldiers and families is never finished.

He’s gone hard after sexual assault, hosting two conferences with senior leaders to address the problem. The number of sexual assault reports in the command increased under his tenure, which he believes indicates that soldiers have greater confidence in their leadership to hold perpetrators accountable and care for victims.

Even one suicide or sexual assault is too many, he said, “but I think we’ve put more discipline and rigor in the system and helping ourselves see ourselves.”

As for what’s next for Campbell, who retires from the Army, he’s settling in North Carolina, where he and his wife have built a home. He grew up in the military, was in ROTC in college and got his commission right afterward. He’s spent 36 years in the Army, and that’s the only life he said he’s ever really known.

He said he’ll take a few months off before looking for another job. He wants to stay away from Washington.

“After doing this for so long, I’d like to kind of try something else.”

millham.matthew@stripes.com

Twitter: @mattmillham

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