MAINZ, Germany — Of the four German states with military bases, Rhineland-Palatinate may have the most to lose in the Bush administration’s proposed transformation of the U.S. military presence in Europe. Or at least the most to fight for.
Of the four states — Hessen, Rhineland-Palatinate, Bavaria and Badem-Wurttenberg — hosting most of the U.S. military presence, only Rhineland-Palatinate officials have put together a public campaign to convince U.S. policy makers to keep open its bases, including Baumholder and Spangdahlem Air Base.
So far, the state in southwestern Germany is one for one. Spangdahlem, near the border with Belgium, apparently will survive, while Baumholder, home to the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, may close.
Bavaria appears to be the big winner in the transformation, with both Hohenfels and Grafenwöhr combat maneuver training centers remaining and a Stryker Brigade going to Grafenwöhr. Other states, such as Hessen, can afford to lose bases such as Darmstadt and Wiesbaden because those bases are in heavily developed urban areas and will be quickly absorbed, said a German official who asked not to be identified.
Baumholder, by comparison, is in one of the most undeveloped parts of Germany, where jobs are scarce and the unemployment rate is relatively high at about 9 percent.
“Rheinland-Pfalz has spent 1.5 billion euros of state money on base reuse projects,” the official said.
Those efforts have mostly been successful. Hahn Air Base, for example, is now Hahn Airport, a hub for Ryanair, a discount carrier, and a major job creator, the official said. Zweibrucken Air Base is now the largest outlet mall in Germany, he added. Others former U.S. bases such as Sembach Air Base and the former 1st AD headquarters at Bad Kreuznach, sit unused.
With 550 properties — including five major air bases — handed back to the Germans by the U.S. Defense Department since 1990, “we’re running out of options on Baumholder.”
Rheinland-Palatinate officials began putting together a strategy just after the Bush administration announced transformation plans in April 2001. Their assumption, the source said, was that Ramstein would remain as the United States’ main European transport hub.
So the main thrust was to convince U.S. defense officials that the most practical bases from which to deploy large numbers of troops would those closest to the giant air base.
The centerpiece of the plan to convince U.S. officials to keep remaining bases involves an affordable build-to-lease plan to improve family housing and overall quality of life while freeing up money for essential military projects.
In an effort headed up by Karl Peter Bruch, Rhineland-Palatinate’s interior minister, German officials are trying to recruit private investors for a private/public partnership to build or upgrade U.S. facilities, including housing units at Ramstein, Spangdahlem and Baumholder. Under the plan, the United States in return would commit to long-term leases on the property rather than having to budget large, one-time construction projects or renovation costs.
The goal is to line up about $130 million in financing to build 500 units, according to German officials familiar with the plan. The Air Force gave the state a two-page list of unfunded projects including warehouses, a mail terminal, fuel depots and administration buildings that could be built under the program, said the German source.
The arrangement would allow the United States not only to build better family housing — abandoning stairwell floor plans dating back to the 1950s — for troops, but to reduce U.S. costs by using more efficient private contractors to do the work.
In turn, the long-term leases would give investors a reasonable return.
Part of the effort is trying to cut bureaucracy and getting the federal government to change laws that forbid private investors from building on federal land used for the military, German officials told Stars and Stripes.
German officials still have to present a final plan to the Pentagon, Bruch said in an interview Wednesday.
On Thursday, U.S. European Command’s deputy commander said Spangdahlem Air Base will survive — along with Ramstein — as a replacement for Rhein-Main Air Base passenger hub in Frankfurt.
“The German government is actually allowing some funds to go to Spangdahlem to help us improve it so we can move out of Rhein-Main,” said Gen. Charles F. Wald at a press conference at EUCOM headquarters in Stuttgart. “Same thing with Ramstein, so both of those bases we intend to keep open.”
But so far, there’s no word on Baumholder.