By Max Lederer
Publisher, Stars and Stripes
When United States forces arrived in England in 1942 and when its allies celebrated V-E day in May 1945, it was not envisioned how the world would change, and that the United States and others would be military partners in Europe today.
American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines — along with civilian employees and their families from the U.S., as well as allies from Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, Turkey, France, Spain and other nations — have spent 75 years living and working to support the peace and development of Europe as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. That former allies would become enemies, and enemies would become allies and good friends, was unthinkable.
During those 75 years, through stories, photographs and videos, Stars and Stripes has chronicled this partnership never before undertaken in world history. The Stars and Stripes staff has embraced the mission, with honor and privilege, to record this history. The good, the bad, the happy, the sad, the shocking and the routine are part of the story.
Arguments about the need for the United States in the region, the size of the force, the location and purpose of military stationing matter little to the men and women who commit themselves to live and work in support of U.S. military objectives. The individuals who have stepped forward to be part of the 75-year history have left the comfort of their lives, a decision accepted valiantly by their loved ones, to protect all of us and create an environment of peace and security.
The spirit of sacrifice is the mark of all parts of the military community and its families.
Stars and Stripes is commemorating the U.S. participation in the alliance of nations, serving to protect and maintain peace in Europe. The words and the images collected here are intended to illustrate the past and provide context for the future. The European region bears a special significance for the U.S. and its role as a global power. Relations are centuries old, and the bonds are not only political, military and economic but historical and social. We share many of the same values regarding human rights, freedom, democracy and a civil society.
The violent period of World War II saw as many as 3 million U.S. military personnel in Europe. After the war, an urgency to bring the troops home or send them to the Pacific war zone dropped forces in Europe to about 100,000. There were still important tasks to complete — the rebuilding of Germany and other war-ravaged areas as well as participation in the trials of war criminals, such as those at Nuremberg. The rise of Communism changed this perspective.
The threat of the U.S.S.R. created a need to grow the U.S. military presence, reaching a zenith of more than 450,000 U.S. personnel spread over 100 communities in the early 1960s. The patrolling of the Berlin Wall, guarding the Fulda Gap, and holding the annual REFORGER exercises were part of the fabric of the Cold War and of the education of the children of the United States. U.S. personnel holding the line in Europe helped to deter a nuclear attack that children prepared for across America by learning to “duck and cover” under their desks at the sound of a warning.
When the Wall came down in 1989 and later Germany was reunified, a sigh of relief was exhaled around the world. This allowed military strength in Europe to be diverted to fight other enemies. The war against Iraq and Saddam Hussein — to respond to Iraq’s aggression against its neighbor Kuwait -- is a primary example of the massive movement of forces from Europe to other areas. But when these troops returned to their Europe stations, they were confronted with new challenges created by the crumbling stability of the former Soviet bloc. Conflicts in the former Yugoslavian nations of Bosnia and Kosovo occupied the focus of the European command for much of the later part of the 1990s.
The U.S. was not prepared for the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the resulting conflicts and the hatred directed at the American way of life by Osama bin Laden and his followers. Once again, the well-trained and skilled forces in Europe were diverted to conflicts in the Middle East. And again, the infrastructure of the European command was essential to the forward-operating activities in the Middle East. The logistic bases in Europe, troop transport and medical care provided by Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and in other areas have been integral to sustaining operations and saving lives.
Always ready for the next challenge, European-based forces deployed in support of humanitarian missions including providing earthquake relief in Turkey and combating the Ebola virus in Africa. In parallel to these humanitarian efforts and involvement in the Middle East, U.S. troop strength in Europe continued to decline during the first two decades of this century. Today, the U.S. force in Europe is much smaller at 62,000 personnel across 28 communities and 14 countries. Despite a much smaller presence, the need for forward-deployed troops in Europe is as essential as it has been at any time. The resurgence of Russia in Crimea and other actions again have U.S. military men and women serving at the tip of the spear.
Through all these transitions, Stars and Stripes has chronicled what has occurred: the pain and suffering, the successes and failures, the heroic and the dishonest actions of members of the force. Reporters and photographers have traveled the roads and trails of the military community. The staff lives with the troops and families as members of their communities. No matter the weather or the conflict, the Stars and Stripes team delivered a newspaper on the “most dangerous paper routes in the world,” including the early days of Bosnia and Kosovo conflicts, to Afghanistan, Iraq and to Africa, where service personnel risked their lives to fight Ebola.
Recognizing a need, Stars and Stripes has also brought events to the military community to improve the quality of life — sponsoring runs, commissary food contests, trip giveaways and more. Our storytellers have sought to be the voice of everyday servicemembers, to make sense of where they live and work, and to explain the messages of the leadership. Stars and Stripes has changed as you, our reader, have changed.
Today, how the story is delivered is different — now digital and print — but the content goal is the same. To tell the story of the military to the military — a goal no other news organization seeks to accomplish. After our first 75 years, it is still with awe of the sacrifice of the U.S. military community that Stars and Stripes proudly seeks to chronicle your lives.