Gen. David McKiernan bids farewell to USAREUR, heads for new post as top U.S. commander in Afghanistan
Stars and Stripes May 2, 2008
HEIDELBERG, Germany — U.S. Army Europe’s most difficult task in recent years?
Getting troops trained and ready for combat — again and again and again, said Gen. David McKiernan.
“How hard is this? It’s real hard,” McKiernan said this week in an interview just days before he relinquished the command to become top commander in Afghanistan.
Troops deployed for a year or more, with a year of dwell time that is not much of a respite, McKiernan said, but a “fast-paced year” getting ready to deploy again can’t be indefinitely sustained.
“We have the right programs, training and equipment, but we’re using it so fast, we’re consuming readiness faster than we can build it,” McKiernan said. “And that will continue until requirements are reduced and/or we grow the size of the Army.
“We all — the senior leaders — understand we can’t sustain that forever,” he said.
“Are we worried about the Army breaking?” McKiernan said. “Absolutely.”
It’s not broken yet, he said, but USAREUR is showing the same strains as the rest of the Army. “We are out of balance just like the Army is elsewhere.”
McKiernan’s successor is still expected to be Gen. Martin Dempsey, who was approved for the post but then tapped to be interim Central Command commander after Navy Adm. William Fallon’s sudden resignation.
Gen. David Petraeus has been named to take over CENTCOM in the fall, so Dempsey would be expected to arrive in Heidelberg about then.
Lt. Gen. Gary Speer, the deputy USAREUR commander and chief of staff, is to be acting USAREUR commander in the meantime.
McKiernan, who believes strongly in military coalitions and cooperation, said he hoped his impact on USAREUR — which will soon become Seventh Army — had been to shape the right mix of U.S. forces remaining in Europe and to build alliances with European nations.
“I’m not really concerned with a personal legacy,” he said. “What’s happening in Europe today is getting the right stance, the right forces in the right locations. We’re still in the process of reducing the hundreds and hundreds of installations. Making sure we have the right presence here — part of that is to help build that partner relationship. If I’ve advanced that argument one bit, that’s in the right direction.”
In fact, McKiernan, along with the U.S. European Command, worked hard to persuade the Pentagon to leave thousands more troops in Europe — two combat brigades — than a rebasing plan devised in 2003 allowed for.
In December, it was announced that two brigades scheduled to return to the U.S. would be delayed. McKiernan said last week that the base for one of the brigades, Baumholder, was almost certainly to stay open permanently. He said he was hopeful that the decision to return another brigade’s worth of soldiers would be “relooked.”
McKiernan’s efforts have been appreciated by the Germans, who held a Grand Tattoo, the German Army’s highest honor, for him Tuesday night, consisting of a torch-lit parade and serenade. He is to bid farewell to USAREUR at a ceremony Friday.
Here’s what else McKiernan had to say about USAREUR:
n Transformation: USAREUR and V Corps will merge to become Seventh Army in July 2009. Heidelberg will close down, with Seventh Army moving to Wiesbaden in 2012, although the time line and funding have not been finalized.
n Task Force-East: The initiative to establish a presence in new NATO partners Romania and Bulgaria has gotten off to a slow start in terms of troops training there because the troops are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. “We have made the investment with both the Romanian and Bulgarian governments; both are very happy with the arrangements to date. I think it’s here to stay.”
“The benefit to the U.S. is we are building partner capacity in two nations. … We shape Eastern European militaries. That’s the importance of our being here in Europe.”
n U.S. soldiers and families: “I leave here with a greater respect for soldiers and families … repeated deployments, all the stress that brings, how communities band together. I’m more proud to be a soldier now than I ever have been in 36 years in the Army.”