McKiernan assumes USAREUR command from Bell
A promise to soldiers and their families was reaffirmed and a promise to a general’s wife was extracted at Wednesday’s ceremony marking the end of Gen. B.B. Bell’s command of U.S. Army Europe and the beginning of Gen. David D. McKiernan’s.
The reaffirmed pledge came from Marine Gen. James L. Jones, commander of the U.S. European Command and supreme allied commander Europe, while praising Bell as a “soldier’s soldier, a man of vision, a team player.”
Bell’s most lasting USAREUR accomplishment, Jones said, would be his plan for Army transformation, which will return two divisions of soldiers to the States and in which, Jones said, “ … you’ve clearly articulated that all deployed soldiers will return to Germany first.”
That promise had been contradicted in May by an acting undersecretary of the Army, who said Germany-based, Iraq-deployed soldiers would head straight from there to the U.S., and that their families would move from Germany on their own and meet them there. Bell refused to budge from his position, and Jones’ reiteration of the policy strengthens it further.
The second promise came from Gen. Gerhard Back, commander of Allied Forces Northern Europe, who said he knew that Bell’s wife, Katie, longed for a house on the banks of a river somewhere in the southern U.S.
“And I know you, B.B., will make this true for her,” Back said.
Bell, standing under gray skies at Campbell Barracks in front of 400 NATO and USAREUR soldiers in formation and a host of dignitaries, friends and colleagues in the stands, smiled and shrugged, his palms up, as if to say this was one decision that was out of his hands.
The ceremony was a joint one with NATO’s Allied Land Component Command Headquarters Heidelberg in keeping with Bell’s command of the NATO headquarters, which now also passes to McKiernan.
Bell, now to be U.S. Forces Korea commander, was commended for his “rekindling” ties to the German army and NATO and his help in moving not only USAREUR but also NATO toward a more “lethal, agile” force.
McKiernan, who, as commander of combined allied land forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq got his forces to Baghdad in 16 days, last served as U.S. Army Forces Command deputy and chief of staff at Fort McPherson, Ga.
Recently promoted to four-star general, McKiernan has spent 13 years of his military career in Germany, lived in Heidelberg as a child in the 1950s, he said, and is married to a German woman, Carmen.
“It’s a great day,” he said Wednesday, “a great day to be a soldier with the U.S. Army and in NATO. We stand ready to soldier with you.”
At a brief news conference after the ceremony, McKiernan said he had no plans for any immediate changes at U.S. Army Europe and wanted first to do an assessment. Even then, he said, “I’m not sure I’d want to change anything B.B. Bell has done.”
Asked how he foresaw the mechanics of returning Germany’s two divisions and their thousands of soldiers and family members to the U.S., scheduled to begin on his watch, he said, “We can move equipment and flags … the most important thing is taking care of families.”
Asked about his management style, and reminded of his reputation in the media for being soft-spoken, McKiernan said, “I’m very soft-spoken — with the press. ... But I guarantee you, I’ll be in command of the Army formation.”
Wednesday’s ceremony followed a torch-lit, speech-free German farewell ceremony for Bell on Tuesday night. That ceremony — called a “Grand Tattoo,” for the beating of drums marking last call for drinks and the ordered return of troops to their tents — dates from the beginning of the 19th century. It involved drums and pipes, and songs requested by Bell, including “The Tennessee Waltz” and the Tennessee state song, “Rocky Top” — a place, the lyrics say, with fresh air, moonshine and a girl “wild as a mink but sweet as soda pop.”
In his speech Wednesday, Bell quoted Harry S Truman on the importance of NATO and said the organization is more important now, “in this war of ideas and ideals,” than ever before. He lauded McKiernan as a “seasoned veteran” who USAREUR and NATO were lucky to have as commander.
He thanked generals, command sergeants major, soldiers, spouses and a war widow whose husband was killed in Iraq last Christmas Eve, for all their support and sacrifice.
But he saved his highest praise for his wife.
“Thank you, darlin’, for always being there,” he said. Then he stopped for several seconds.
Up in her seat, Katie Bell was wiping away tears as her husband continued. “You make things OK,” he said to her. “God Bless you. I love you.”
Bell wished everyone auf Wiedersehen, and was answered with a standing ovation and long applause.