Fort Carson brigade Europe bound, but budget impasse causes concern
October 4, 2016
A tank brigade out of Fort Carson, Colo., has been tapped as the next unit to rotate to Europe, but Pentagon budget uncertainty could force delays on some efforts to bolster the military’s presence in Europe, Army leaders said Monday.
The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, is expected to begin its rotation to Europe in early 2017, with additional U.S. combat aviation forces set to follow by spring.
The moves are part of the European Reassurance Initiative, which is slated to quadruple to $3.4 billion in spending in the year ahead. The initiative aims to reassure allies in eastern Europe and send a signal of deterrence to Russia.
“Without ERI there is no deterrence (in Europe),” said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, U.S. Army Europe commander, during a panel talk at the start of a three-day conference of the Association of the U.S. Army in Washington.
Hodges cautioned that budget certainty was key to avoiding delays in plans for troop rotations, the stockpiling of weapons and a more intense training regime in Europe.
“If Congress can’t pass a budget, it makes it very difficult to do what we need to do from a deterrence stand point,” he said.
Besides rotating forces, a key part of the European Reassurance Initiative is to place a brigade’s worth of tanks, combat vehicles and artillery in warehouses around Europe.
It isn’t clear whether the budget impasse would curtail the initiative or force the Army to scale back. The combat-ready gear is intended to serve as extra firepower in the event of a crisis. Meanwhile, when the brigade from Fort Carson deploys to Europe, it will come with its own equipment.
The Pentagon is now without a fiscal 2017 budget, operating instead on a continuing resolution that was passed last week by Congress, which limits spending to levels of the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last month that a short-term stop-gap spending package could constrict some efforts in Europe, asserting during Senate testimony that a continuing resolution would undermine the pre-positioning of equipment and war-fighting gear in the countries of NATO allies. “That would have great strategic consequences,” he said.
The Fort Carson-based brigade’s gear is expected to arrive at the port of Bremerhaven, Germany, in January, when the Army will attempt to rapidly mobilize the force into position.
“They will be on the clock. How fast can we get them from Bremerhaven to assembly areas in western Poland?” Hodges said.
Soldiers will then fan out for training across the Baltics, Poland and central and southeastern Europe. In connection with an armored brigade — intended to give USAREUR access to a third brigade in Europe on a continuous basis — the rotation of elements from the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade will provide added airlift.
USAREUR will receive an attack reconnaissance battalion and additional medevac rotary-wing platforms to complement an aviation support battalion, a brigade headquarters and headquarters support company. Together, these units will fill out a combat aviation brigade in theater, according to Hodges. The air assets will be positioned at refurbished airfields throughout Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland.
The U.S. is also set to join a NATO effort to place battle groups in the Baltics and Poland. About 800 troops from the Vilseck, Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment will be deployed next year to the northeastern corner of Poland. Germany, Canada and the U.K. will lead similar battalions in the Baltic nations.