Transformation: Military is adjusting to a new footprint in Europe
Stars and Stripes June 20, 2007
The U.S. military built brigades — Airborne, Stryker and Combat Aviation — with 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers each.
It also is building a task force in Romania, will soon be training in Bulgaria, and already is at burgeoning sites in Grafenwöhr and Hohenfels, Germany. A new unified command, Africa Command, opened in February in Stuttgart, Germany, as did a NATO Special Operations Coordination Center.
But while a building up is taking place, a tearing down is also occurring, soon to leave historic U.S. facilities looking like ghost towns. About 62,000 soldiers were based in Europe four years ago. By the end of summer, that number will be about 44,700. While the bases at Grafenwöhr and Vicenza, Italy, grow, Würzburg’s dwindle.
“When you look at what we’ve done this year, it’s been an unbelievably tough year,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, the former operations chief for U.S. Army Europe, now commander of 1st Armored Division.
“Looking back on it, I was like, ‘Holy smokes!’ ” Hertling said. “We’ve accomplished all the things we said we were going to accomplish.”
Units that were transforming — the Vicenza-based 173rd Airborne Brigade, the Vilseck-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment, and the Katterbach-based 12th Combat Aviation Bridgade — were supposed to have about two years to “really get used to this new organization,” Hertling said.
Instead, all those units are deploying this year.
As the military ebbs, the supporting casts flow, including medical people and Internet types moving to fit the future even as plans change.
Medical clinics closed in Giebelstadt, Kitzingen and Babenhausen, and ones in Friedburg, Butzbach and Giessen will close as their 1st Armored Division customer-base shrinks. Medical headquarters will be located in Vilseck and Stuttgart, Germany. There will also be a medical facility in Vicenza.
Only two military hospitals remain that have inpatient services, in Heidelberg and Landstuhl, though Heidelberg is due to close.
The European Regional Medical Command has a liaison officer in the loop at U.S. Army Europe, said Phil Tegtmeier, an ERMC spokesman.
“We keep up on what the trends are,” Tegtmeier said. “We’re executing the plan that was already announced, but are prepared to make changes should changes occur.”
The Army’s information highway also has been undergoing roadwork. Servers have been amassed at four sites that provide Internet, handle e-mail and store files. Before, the servers were scattered over 21 sites. Most recently, the Grafenwöhr area processing center opened on March 30; other centers had already opened in Kaiserslautern, Vicenza and Chievres, Belgium.
The Grafenwöhr site will handle, among other things, data storage and services for the new Joint Task Force East, the Constanta, Romania-based training sites now being prepared by the Army and Air Force.
Enduring installations have been connected by a new, broader fiber-optic network. The new network of servers, switches and routers will be managed by regional units instead of piecemeal.
The Mannheim-based 5th Signal Command handles the theater’s systems. The command is transforming on the fly; it just set up the 173rd with a signal company for its deployment to Afghanistan.
The Darmstadt-based 22nd Signal Brigade deactivated on May 22. Its soldiers and assets are being distributed to other units.
“Basically, we’re developing what people need,” said LeAnne McAllister, a signal command spokeswoman. “From a small package of six to eight soldiers to a whole signal company.”
The signal command plans to be ready to deal with a change in plans, such as if a combat brigade would stay in Germany for longer than expected, according to Col. David DeVries, deputy commander of 5th Signal.
“We feel we’re postured right now that we can support the commanders, whichever way they go.”