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After losing some $377 million in military construction projects, the top leader of U.S. forces in Europe said his command was lucky it didn’t take a bigger budget hit this year.

“It could have been a lot worse,” said European Command chief Marine Gen. James L. Jones of the recently signed 2004 Military Construction Appropriations Act.

Congress rescinded $237 million in construction funds approved in last year’s budget and slashed another $140 million in requested money from this years’ request. Overall, Congress approved some $200 million more in construction projects than the $9.1 billion requested by the Defense Department.

Facilities in Germany took the lion’s share of the hits in Europe with more than $290 million in approved and requested funding cuts.

“At the end of the day we ran a serious risk of getting nothing,” said Jones, “and paying for it on the backs of our men and women and their families.”

Funding for housing renovations was slashed by $90 million, cutting renovations to more than 700 units across eight bases.

Facilities in Mannheim, Germany, lost more than $60 million in projects, including a $42 million barracks complex.

“For the people who are not fortunate enough to live in the best kinds of facilities we are still committed to changing that in the shortest period of time possible,” Jones told Stars and Stripes. “This is not a dialogue that’s over by any stretch. We are hard at work so that OSD and the Hill know that some of these things can’t wait — that we need to either fix them or close them. We’ll keep the pressure on and do the best we can.”

Alongside the cuts are plans to reshape U.S. forces in Europe by consolidating bases and shifting some units back to the United States.

Congressional leaders weren’t convinced those plans had been polished enough as legislators were crafting this year’s military construction bill.

Senators in the committee introducing that legislation wrote they had “reservations about proposed construction in Europe. For example, the budget request includes a number of projects in areas in Germany that, according to public statements of Army and other Defense Department officials, are likely to see significant force level reductions,” reads the committee report.

“Evaluated against a backdrop of uncertainty about fundamental aspects of a revised overseas basing structure which the Department has yet to propose,” the report continues, “the committee has declined to fund much of the new construction in Europe.”

Congressional leaders opted to fund new operational facilities at Spangdahlem Air Base but not $60 million in projects that would have improved family housing, built a new hospital and expanded the elementary school.

The same goes for the Army’s training center at Grafenwöhr, Germany. Under what has been dubbed “Efficient Basing East,” Army officials were planning to move a 1st Armored Division brigade from closing facilities in the Giessen area north of Frankfurt to Grafenwöhr beginning in 2006.

Again, while Congress wrote checks this year to pay for $76 million worth of new barracks and maintenance facilities for the brigade, it refused funds for a new medical clinic, elementary and middle school.

“Where the European Command came out — in terms of the things we wanted to preserve,” said Jones, “I was happy with the support we got. We tried to, at least this year, preserve those places we absolutely had to have.”

As part of that effort Jones asked Congress to shift millions from bases he no longer wants to bases he hopes to keep. In the end, legislators applauded the cuts, but denied request to shift funds.

Jones said it was a gamble in taking money out of bases that the United States might end up having to keep.

“We lose a year,” said Jones. “The alternative is to get zero.

“We had to do this, recognizing there are some places that people will be scratching their heads over because in a month or two they won’t see a closing sign. We have to continue the process so that we can strike a balance between where we think we’re going and where we actually go.”

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