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For the first time in years, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t dominate the news on the homefront in Europe. Instead, it was pocketbook issues, such as post allowance, and health issues that made the most headlines.

That’s not to say the war had no effect on what was happening at home: There were still casualties and there were accusations of wrongdoing by soldiers deployed to the war zones. But there was also a humanitarian crisis in Georgia and a new combatant command. And of course, there was military transformation.

The top stories of 2008:

1. Civilians earn post allowanceAfter more than a dozen years of violating a DOD regulation, five of the Defense Department’s six major nonappropriated fund employers were ordered to pay cost-of-living allowances to all eligible full-time American workers. Air Force Services, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Navy Exchange Service Command, Marine Corps Community Services and Commander, Naval Installations Command hadn’t been paying the allowances to Americans hired overseas, violating a 1995 regulation. They were also ordered to pay millions of dollars in arrears going back to Dec. 1, 2001. By the end of October the activities had paid more than 1,500 claims for back pay.

2. Navy begins health assessmentAfter decades of burning trash, illegal toxic dumping and garbage collection strikes in Naples, Italy, the Navy funnels millions of dollars — some from force-protection funds — to ask if living in Naples is a health hazard. Results of a study so far have shown many off-base homes to have bacteriological contaminants and volatile organic compounds in soil and water systems. The findings prompted the Navy to test all homes under lease consideration, hand out hundreds of thousands of liters of free bottled water to off-base residents and place several Naples neighborhoods off-limits for leasing.

3. Nine killed in Afghanistan battleOn a summer Sunday morning, approximately 200 insurgents unleashed a hellacious attack against about 50 troops operating at a small vehicle patrol base in eastern Afghanistan. Bullets, rocket-propelled grenades, dust and smoke filled the air at the Wanat post housing Vicenza, Italy-based soldiers with 2nd Platoon, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

In the hourslong battle on July 13, the American soldiers fought to keep the insurgents from overrunning their tiny post. Particularly targeted in the attack was the unit’s observation post, which was about 50 to 75 meters from the main post. Of the nine U.S. soldiers who died in the fighting, eight fell in action at that observation post. In addition to the dead, 27 U.S. troops were wounded. The attack at Wanat occurred just weeks before the unit was set to return to Europe.

4. Soldier charged in Iraqis’ deathsIn September, the Army charged three former members of Schweinfurt, Germany-based 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment with conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and other offenses in the deaths of four Iraqi detainees in 2007.

In sworn statements, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph P. Mayo and Sgt. Michael P. Leahy Jr. said they and 1st Sgt. John E. Hatley killed the Iraqis. Earlier, the Army charged Staff Sgt. Jess Cunningham, Sgt. Charles Quigley, Spc. Belmor Ramos and Spc. Stephan A. Ribordy with conspiracy to commit premeditated murder for their roles in the deaths. Ramos and Ribordy were found guilty of conspiracy in separate courts-martial.

Pretrial agreements reduced their sentences to less than a year each. Cunningham and Quigley are awaiting court-martial. It’s not yet been decided if the accused killers will be tried.

5. U.S. rushes aid to GeorgiaThe U.S. military rushes humanitarian aid to the republic of Georgia soon after Russia annihilates Georgia’s military in a brief war over the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Aboard planes and ships, some 1,300 tons of humanitarian aid were delivered to Georgia. When the fighting broke out in early August between Russia and Georgia, a small group of U.S. soldiers from Germany was on the ground in Tbilisi. The troops watched as a Russian jet dropped bombs on a military base. Gen. John Craddock, commander of U.S European Command, considered the implications of Russia’s dramatic show of force: "What we have said for many years — there’s no danger of that type of conflict in the European theater of operations — probably has to be reassessed because we’ve had a situation here where a country has since been invaded. And that’s going to cause us now to go back and relook at some of the assumptions we’ve made."

6. AAFES corrects gas pricing errorWhile reviewing old Army and Air Force Exchange Service gas price data in January, Stars and Stripes discovered that AAFES overcharged motorists for fuel in Europe from May to July 2007. AAFES admitted it made a mistake, and for more than a month afterward knocked off between 3 and 5 cents per gallon to compensate for the error.

Then in the fall, a policy that prevents the exchange from losing money on fuel kept AAFES from lowering its prices as stateside prices plummeted. There is no mechanism to limit the exchange’s fuel profits. Because of the no-loss policy, the way AAFES fuel contracts are structured and unprecedented oil price volatility, AAFES prices at various times and locations have been at "floor" — another way of saying they were at or near cost.

7. Baumholder named ‘enduring’ baseAfter years spent on transformation’s chopping block, the U.S. Army Garrison at Baumholder, Germany, is named one of the military’s "enduring" bases in Europe. Local political leaders and merchants had long coveted such a designation and feared the void that would come if U.S. troops left the community. But on June 4, the Pentagon declared Baumholder "enduring." Isolated in southwestern Germany and with a German population of only 5,000 and about twice that number of Americans, the Army has been the region’s economic lifeblood for decades.

8. AFRICOM stands up in StuttgartOn Oct. 1, U.S. Africa Command stands up as the U.S. military’s 6th unified combatant command. Designed to bring all Department of Defense programs on the continent under one umbrella, AFRICOM has been engaged in a public relations battle from the start. Dismissed by critics as an attempt to militarize the continent and gain control of Africa’s plentiful natural resources — namely oil — countries resisted an original plan to locate the command headquarters in Africa. For now, the command will be headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared in late October that any decision on the location of the headquarters won’t be made until 2012.

9. German police fatally shoot U.S. soldierIn March, a 30-year-old soldier based in Schweinfurt, Germany, was shot and killed by German police following a standoff that began when he broke into his former girlfriend’s home and took her hostage. The circumstances surrounding the death of Army Pvt. Jeremiah W. Carmack are still being investigated by German prosecutors. A final report is expected to be completed early next year.

Earlier reports indicate that Carmack was distraught over the breakup with his girlfriend and that he grew even more so when he learned his former roommate had started dating her. On March 13, he smuggled an M-4 carbine and ammunition off of Conn Barracks and drove to her house. After a tense encounter, the woman slipped out of the house. He fled the scene and made his way to a nearby field where he hid until he was spotted by a German police helicopter.

With a German police commando unit closing in, Carmack allegedly lifted his gun and was shot twice. He died a short time later.

10. Army eyes Sembach Air BaseNews broke in late September that the Army is considering moving units to the Air Force’s Sembach Air Base, just outside Kaiserslautern, Germany. Stripes obtained a copy of a slide show outlining the plan that discussed adding between about 1,400 and 2,200 people to Sembach.

Under variations of the plan, Sembach could house the headquarters of Europe Regional Medical Command, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, American Forces Network-Europe, Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe, Army and Air Force Exchange Service-Europe, Installation Management Command-Europe, U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Europe and U.S. Army Garrison-Kaiserslautern.

Other units and activities mentioned as proposed Sembach tenants include the 230th Military Police Company, the 7th Army Band and the confinement facility in Mannheim.

The plan also calls for closing a small post in Pirmasens, Germany, which houses U.S. Army Medical Material Center Europe and U.S. Army Test, Measurement, and Diagnostic Equipment Activity.


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