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Congress has slashed nearly $380 million for construction projects in several U.S. military communities across Europe.

A large chunk of the money — about $220 million — had been earmarked for family housing projects and new schools at bases in Bamberg, Darmstadt, Mannheim, Schweinfurt, Würzburg, Heidelberg and Spangdahlem. Also axed was a $14.7 million dining facility project at Keflavik Naval Air Station, Iceland.

The money was originally approved in the fiscal year 2003 military appropriations budget, but earlier this year Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld asked commanders to review basing and force structure, and $237 million was cut from the European funds.

An additional $140 million — which covered everything from new barracks and offices to housing renovations and upgrades at bases in Germany, Italy, Turkey and England — was trimmed from the FY 2004 request.

Both sets of cuts were included in the FY 04 Military Construction Appropriations Act, signed by President Bush on Nov. 22.

But the news is not all bad. More than $390 million for other construction was approved for bases throughout Europe.

The shift in budget strategy comes as Marine Gen. James L. Jones, head of the U.S. European Command, sets up his transformation plan. Under his plan, the United States would close some bases in Western Europe and open smaller ones in Eastern European countries, such as Romania, Bulgaria and Poland.

Two weeks ago, the Pentagon’s third-ranking civilian, Douglas Feith, and his State Department counterpart, Marc Grossman, wrapped up a diplomatic blitz to a dozen capitals across Europe designed to shore up support for the sweeping reorganization of U.S. forces overseas.

That reorganization, Feith said, could include closing some bases.

In April, Jones told the Senate military construction subcommittee that he would not ask for funding for bases that did not have an “enduring value.”

“Our FY 04 request is predicated upon the assurance that we will not expend resources except where strategically warranted, that we will close unneeded facilities as efficiently and as quickly as possible,” Jones said. “We will not invest and not request any money for any installation in Europe that is not of strategically enduring value.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that the military communities in Europe that failed to receive funding in the appropriations act will be closed, Jones told Stars and Stripes in an interview Dec. 12.

“I think we have to be careful here to draw the conclusion that if some base didn’t get money that they are automatically on the final chopping list, because that’s not the case,” Jones said. “We just don’t know.”

Still, Jones said if it were up to him, those bases would be shut down. When asked if there were any facilities that he wanted to keep among those that lost funding, Jones’ answer was simple: “No.”

While construction funding was cut to some bases, many more will still receive money.

Based on testimony Jones has given, the bases he defines as “strategically enduring” include:

• Army — Hohenfels, Grafenwöhr, Vilseck, Stuttgart and Heidelberg Hospital all in Germany, as well as Livorno and Vicenza in Italy.

• Air Force — Ramstein Air Base and, at least the operational side, of Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, Aviano Air Base in Italy, RAF Mildenhall and Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, Lajes Field in Portugal and Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.

• Navy — Sigonella Naval Air Station and La Maddalena in Italy and Saint Mawgan in the United Kingdom.

“These are places you would keep whatever you did,” Jones told Stripes on Dec. 12.

The final decisions on basing changes, however, rest with policymakers in Washington.

“I am happy with the military’s recommendations that we made for possible transformation, particularly with base closures,” he said. “Those recommendations were made without any political frame whatsoever — just pure military analysis.”

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