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November 1, 2008

STUTTGART, Germany — With the Pentagon apparently on the lookout for alternative locations for U.S. Africa Command, some stateside lawmakers are pushing hard to get the new military operation set up in their home districts.

A congressional delegation from Georgia was the latest to enter the fray, making its pitch to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the form of a letter: "As you are well aware, the Department of Defense is considering several locations in the continental United States as headquarters for Africa Command (AFRICOM). Should the determination be made to relocate the headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany, we believe that Marietta, Georgia offers unparalleled advantages," Georgia Republican Reps. Phil Gingrey and Tom Price wrote on Wednesday.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, also Republicans, have issued similar letters, too.

Officials in South Carolina, meanwhile, say Charleston is another location being looked at by the Pentagon.

The command officially was stood up at its Stuttgart headquarters on Oct. 1.

The Pentagon didn’t respond to an inquiry from Stars and Stripes about AFRICOM’s possible relocation. But at AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, officials downplayed talk that its headquarters would be moving anytime soon.

"No decisions have been made and we are not actively looking for headquarters," said Vince Crawley, AFRICOM spokesman.

Crawley did acknowledge, however, that there have been some ongoing studies into the issue.

The talk of a potential relocation stateside is the latest twist in AFRICOM’s short but contorted quest for a home base.

Things got off to a rocky start when AFRICOM’s formation was announced in 2007 by President Bush, who stated that the new command would establish its headquarters in Africa. That proclamation provoked a firestorm of criticism across the continent and ushered in a wave of resistance from African leaders with reservations about an increased American presence on their soil.

The military soon changed course, opting instead for a headquarters in Stuttgart.

If AFRICOM were to be relocated to the States, it is doubtful that such a move could happen in the immediate future. After all, the command, which was activated just a few weeks ago, is still hiring staff and moving families to Germany. There are about 1,000 military and civilian personnel currently stationed in Stuttgart. Another 300 staffers are expected to be in place by summer.

In the meantime, work to renovate offices at Kelley Barracks continues to move forward along with improvements to base housing in Stuttgart.

While Stuttgart supporters can argue that Germany has an advantage with respect to proximity to Africa and its European partners, as well as more connecting flights to the continent, the delegation from Georgia says it has some advantages of its own.

Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem are among the locations being proposed by Georgia’s political leadership, who contend that the state has the existing infrastructure to accommodate AFRICOM as well as the ability to expand.

"The base in Marietta has a substantial runway network, as well as rail infrastructure that connect it with the Port of Savannah — already a point of shipment for a significant amount of cargo bound for Africa. Further, given that the facilities in Marietta are presently shared by Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Naval Air Station Atlanta, the Georgia National Guard, and Lockheed Martin, they have long been a model for joint-ness within the Department of Defense," the delegation letter stated.

"We want to make sure people understand the benefits of having it in Georgia. We have quite the infrastructure here," said Chris Jackson, a spokesman for Gingrey, adding that the congressman has been on a couple of fact-finding trips to Stuttgart.

Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward, responding to questions from reporters following an Oct. 17 ceremony to commemorate the launch of AFRICOM, addressed the issue of whether his headquarters would remain in Stuttgart.

"[F]or the time being, being here is what we see. We are thankful for the ability and opportunity that we have here," Ward said. "Should it change in the future? It may. I don’t know that. There are currently no plans to do that and we look forward to continue our work, working collaboratively with our interagency partners."

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