Transformation: For locals, 'it's a big deal' when bases are closed
Stars and Stripes June 19, 2007
BüDINGEN, Germany — In early February, two Army officials from Hanau drove to Büdingen to speak with vice mayor Manfred Hix.
Given the bond that exists between the city and the 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, Hix didn’t give the office call much thought — at least not until the pair stated they had some “bad news” to pass on. By autumn, they announced, the unit would be leaving town for good.
“It was kind of difficult for them to tell us,” Hix said last month.
While it was known Büdingen wouldn’t be one of the “enduring” sites in Europe, most folks, civilians as well as soldiers, thought the unit would stick around for a couple more years.
But transformation is fluid, regulated within the parameters of a defined process but subject to variables, such as the war in Iraq. Büdingen got the early hook. On the other hand, Baumholder, home of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, appears to have gotten a reprieve, at least for now.
The process of closing a base begins behind closed doors. Rumors within a community may swirl about for months, if not years, but U.S. military officials are loath to discuss the particulars until the plan, hammered out in Europe, is blessed by the Department of Defense.
When a facility is identified for closure, initial notification occurs at the federal level of the host nation. That not only involves the DOD, but the U.S. State Department as well.
The next step is to inform local officials, such as Hix. Shortly thereafter, the affected military community and units receive word, followed a day or two later by a public announcement. Some local communities welcome the news; other communities take it hard, especially when there is going to be a significant economic impact.
Büdingen residents learned of the closure of Armstrong Barracks just as Fasching celebrations were in full swing. Lt. Col. Matthew McKenna, the squadron commander, was attending one such function this February when he was approached by one elderly man, then another.
“When you have older gentlemen coming up to you with tears in their eyes, it’s a big deal,” McKenna said.
Over the past couple of years, as the military — the Army in particular — closes more bases, the process itself has become fairly streamlined.
“Once you get the tactical unit out, it takes nine months to a year to literally do all the turnover and exchanges and all that other stuff,” said Army Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, who served as U.S. Army Europe’s point man on transformation until recently taking over as 1st AD commander.
The 1st Infantry Division, for example, departed last July, and soldiers have been slowly filtering out of Bavaria. By the end of this summer, only a caretaker force will remain to prep the facilities for the actual return to the German federal government.
As part of the overall process, U.S. and German negotiators settle on a price that is paid to the former for improvements made over the years. In Kitzingen, for example, the residual improvements to Larson Barracks and Harvey Barracks are $67 million and $96 million respectively.
“They give us credit to do other work. That’s how the process works,” said Steve Donnelly, who served as the directorate of public works for U.S. Army Garrison Franconia, which includes Würzburg and Kitzingen.
Donnelly likened it to “a giant checking account that ebbs and flows over the years.”
“With this round of closures, the amount of money in the pot will go up,” Donnelly said in March when Harvey Barracks was returned.
Five years ago, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent marching orders to Marine Gen. James L. Jones, telling him that the U.S. European Command needed an overhaul to meet the unique challenges of the 21st century.Jones’ plan, started in 2002, called for the moving of thousands of troops from Europe back to the United States, moving troops into Eastern Europe and setting up forward operating sites in Africa.But now, Jones’ successor — Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock — is questioning whether pulling troops out of Europe during this time of war is a prudent measure.Stars and Stripes reviews the status of the military’s transformation in Europe in a series of stories that look at the past, present and future.
The stories:DAY 1:EUCOM leaders address transformation issuesDAY 2: A look at troop strength through the yearsTODAY:How the military closes its basesDAY 4: Stateside bases get ready for influx of troopsDAY 5: Air Force, Navy also getting new lookDAY 6: The impact of politics on transformation
Today's related story:Wiesbaden welcomes move with open arms