Jones: Restructuring proposals for Europe bases aim for speed, agility
March 4, 2003
STUTTGART, Germany — The commander of the U.S. European Command is pressing forward with a plan that could radically alter the way U.S. troops are stationed across Europe.
The plan would mean a general movement away from housing U.S. troops in western European countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom, and to countries in eastern Europe, such as the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Poland — and even Africa.
Marine Gen. James Jones cited Eagle Camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina and a large Marine military base on Okinawa, Japan, as examples of how bases in Europe might operate in the future. In those locations, entire units rotate in from the States for six to seven months at a time.
The changes “are not revolutionary, but evolutionary,” he said.
Jones, who also is the supreme allied commander-Europe, said that as he visits each NATO country in the upcoming months, he will discuss the idea of creating U.S. bases in Europe that can deploy troops faster and are more economical and easier to operate than the current configuration.
The concept, Jones predicted, should be palatable to NATO countries.
Already, Jones has written to his counterpart in Russia, which falls under EUCOM’s area of responsibility, about the possible changes.
The transformation time table is not set, Jones said, but the “embryonic” process that will decide how the U.S. military will look overseas will be completed in years, not decades.
The transformation would require fewer permanent facilities in Europe. There is no list of bases that Jones or others working on this concept would like to see closed, he said.
“It’s not that level of work … we’re still getting there,” he said.
He also said that he sees a general movement away from housing U.S. troops in western European countries in favor of eastern European countries.
Parts of Africa, which also fall under EUCOM’s area of responsibility, also are areas that could be examined for a U.S. presence, he said.
To illustrate his point, Jones pointed to Eagle Base and Okinawa — which Marines use as a forward operating base — as possible role models for future military operations.
Military units at both bases can quickly rotate in and out, and they rely upon equipment left behind by the departing unit, he said.
Those bases have no permanent family housing, hospitals and schools, because the troops — except for permanent personnel — don’t bring their families, he said.
The military should not be making “mini-Americas,” he said.
Jones said technological improvements now enable a company of infantry soldiers in the 21st century to do what a battalion of soldiers did in the 20th century, and headquarters elements don’t need to be so large.
The military “will no longer be tied to the fixed stockpiles of logistics,” he said.
Any new base structure would be defined by “light ability, mobility [and] sustainability,” he said.
Jones made his remarks at a briefing with about 20 reporters from German, Italian and American media outlets at EUCOM headquarters in Stuttgart.
He made similar comments in February during a conference in Munich.
The topic is being discussed by members of the U.S. Congress and recently gained momentum as some lawmakers seized on the concept of pulling forces from Europe — particularly Germany, where most American troops are based — as a way to “punish” allies for not backing the United States in its stance on Iraq.
Jones said the base transformation plan that he and others are pursuing has no link to political tensions between the United States and Germany, though he added that political climate could speed up the process.
Jones said he expects to appear in March at four congressional hearings at which he expects “transformation” to be on the agenda.
About 57,000 soldiers and 74,000 family members are now based in Germany. Including the family housing areas, commissaries, schools and other support facilities, the Army serves as landlord to some 22,000 buildings and 239 installations across Europe, according to an Army fact sheet.