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VILSECK, Germany — On a snowy afternoon last week, the doors of Vilseck’s Memorial Fitness Center were closed tight, shutting the only indoor basketball court available to the 3,500 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment soldiers stationed at the base.

Fifteen miles away, there was plenty of room on the two glistening basketball courts and the running track inside the new $15 million Grafenwöhr Physical Fitness Center.

It is differences like those that fuel a growing jealousy among Vilseck residents, the bulk of them 2nd Cav soldiers and families, who look north and see $1 billion dollars worth of new projects transforming Grafenwöhr into a state-of-the-art facility but one which, right now, serves only about one-third as many residents as its southern neighbor.

Rumors are circulating at Vilseck that once a $29.5 million post exchange/commissary opens at Grafenwöhr this summer, the Vilseck PX and commissary will close and be replaced by a furniture store.

While Matt Menonna, the Grafenwöhr Army and Air Force Exchange Service manager, said that was not the case, issues like that came to a head during a town hall meeting at Vilseck earlier this month.

Staff Sgt. Arron Schille, a 2nd Cav soldier, told officials at the meeting that it seems like all the facilities are moving to Grafenwöhr.

“When I got here (along with the rest of the unit last summer), I could get my car inspected on post. Now I have to go up to Grafenwöhr to do it. Everything is moving to Grafenwohr,” he said.

“I have had all kinds of soldiers who ended up having to go up to Grafenwöhr instead of just going around the block. That is a huge loss of manpower.”

Brig. Gen. David G. Perkins, head of the Joint Multinational Training Command, told the meeting that the garrison is in a state of massive change.

“At Grafenwöhr you will see more than one billion of your tax dollars at work. It is the largest military construction project outside the continental United States,” he said.

Susanne Bartsch, a spokeswoman for U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwöhr, which includes both posts, has said Grafenwöhr will grow from a 1,000-soldier garrison with 2,000 military family members to a brigade-size facility with 4,500 soldiers and 7,000 family members over the next few years.

The plan for USAG Grafenwöhr continually is being revised with regards to what is going where, Perkins said.

Perkins said that more than 800 housing units are going in at Netzaberg — an off-post military housing community at Grafenwöhr.

“It is the largest housing development anywhere in Europe. It is a monster project. As that got built it was decided that the (Grafenwöhr) PX-commissary complex was inadequate,” he said.

“So, when they pulled out the master plan they decided we needed a lot of extra stuff to support these soldiers and their families at Grafenwöhr — new schools, roads, sewers. When you build all this stuff it all comes with a package.”

A problem for Vilseck residents is that the Army looks at Vilseck and Grafenwöhr as one community and applies guidelines that specify the types of facilities and the amount of square footage allowed for them to the garrison as a whole.

“It is not that the people at Grafenwöhr had more votes and that is why the (new) commissary is going there. This is one large community. Changes are being made for the future, not right now,” Perkins said.

The challenge is to make sure the long-term plan for the garrison optimizes resources so everything is in the right place once all the troops arrive, he said.

“Things might not be where you or I want them right now. [A facility] might be next to a bunch of empty barracks, but eight years from now those are going to be full,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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