Hodges targets Russia in 1st remarks as USAREUR commander
WIESBADEN, Germany — U.S. Army Europe’s new commander on Wednesday called Russia a very real threat that has made fracturing NATO its “No. 1 priority.”
“So we are going to work very hard to make sure that all of our allies are confident that the rest of the alliance will be there if ever needed,” Lt. Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges told reporters moments after stepping into his new job.
USAREUR, which, though its name has changed, traces its lineage back to World War II, turned its attention again toward its Cold War foe after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March. Companies of American airborne soldiers deployed to the Baltics and Poland in April to reassure allies and deter further Russian aggression. Since then they have been replaced or bolstered by additional troops, including some deployed from the U.S.
“That’s going to continue,” Hodges said.
Hodges replaces Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr., who spent nearly two years as head of USAREUR. Campbell retired from the Army in a ceremony preceding Wednesday’s change of command, ending a career of more than 36 years.
Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command, and Hodges both praised Campbell for his tenure at USAREUR, which coincided with the growing threat of terrorism on the command’s southern border in Syria and escalating tensions in eastern Europe.
Campbell, an armor officer, avoided talking about those looming crises in his farewell speech, focusing instead on thanking military and civilian leaders and his family for the teamwork that led to his and the command’s success.
Hodges, an infantry officer commissioned after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1980, has also been stationed in the region while these threats have grown on NATO’s borders. Before taking the helm of USAREUR, he commanded NATO’s Land Command in Izmir, Turkey, which Hodges stood up as part of a broader NATO restructuring.
Hodges injected moments of humor into his speech, telling Campbell that he would continue with all of his innovations, but wouldn’t carry on one legacy.
“No way in hell I’m going to wear those tanker boots,” he said, referring to the high-cut footwear that Campbell and many other armor officers wear as a mark of their branch.
His remarks quickly turned serious, though, as he addressed the hundreds of U.S. and allied officials, military and family members who attended the ceremony at Clay Kaserne, USAREUR’s headquarters and a former Army airfield the U.S. used during the Berlin Airlift to break the Soviet blockade on the German capital.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a pivotal time in the history of U.S. Army Europe and NATO. Next week is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain.”
USAREUR played a decisive role in achieving that result, Hodges said, and now the command and its partners “face a resurgent Russia that has illegally annexed Crimea and which threatens our friends and allies.”
The threat from Russia, he said, is going to require a trained, ready and resilient USAREUR “to assure our allies and to deter Russia from further encroachment.”
After the ceremony he told reporters that Russia’s actions have created ambiguity.
“They twist the law. They use legal instruments to create uncertainty. I am sure that Russia’s No. 1 priority is to fracture our great alliance.”