Thousands of troops would be moved from Europe back to the United States in the final, most controversial part of Marine Gen. James L. Jones’ master plan to reshape his U.S. European Command into a lighter, more mobile force.

The proposed reductions, according to several senior defense officials, would cut deeply into the Army’s heavy tank and mechanized infantry units in Europe — relocating at least one of its four ground maneuver brigades.

Scores of installations would be shut down, with the remaining forces consolidated into key hubs. Ramstein Air Base in Germany would serve as one of those hubs, Jones said. Meanwhile, U.S. Army Europe planners are consolidating two of the remaining ground brigades at a primary training center at Grafenwöhr, Germany.

The Army has approved a three-year plan to shut down a cluster of bases in the Giessen area north of Frankfurt by 2008, the Pentagon announced in May. Home to the 1st Armored Division’s 1st Brigade and the 284th Base Support Battalion, about a dozen facilities in the Giessen area will be affected.

The closures are part of the Army’s plans to consolidate forces at its sprawling Grafenwöhr training range while streamlining hundreds of bases across Europe, according to a Pentagon announcement.

The closures will affect about 3,400 soldiers and some 5,000 family members, Army officials said.

If the proposed changes are approved, remaining forces would be augmented with rotational units deployed from the States. The size and scope of those forces would expand and contract as needs arise, but Jones has made it clear he intends to focus much of his effort on new outposts in Eastern Europe and Africa, hunting down terrorist groups and drug runners.

“Five years from now, the springboard that is our present capability in Europe will be more flexible,” Jones told Stars and Stripes in April.

Rather than being tied down to big bases — along with the manpower and financial drain they require to operate, maintain and protect — Jones wants bare-bones “lily pads” for his troops.

“When you are talking about any kind of shift in another direction, be it south or east or anything else, I don’t think we are talking about building another Ramstein or another strategically big, large installation where you have the small-town USA come with it, like families and schools and everything else,” Jones told reporters in Washington.

While Jones has been enthusiastically pitching his plan in recent weeks to leaders at the Pentagon and Capitol Hill, not everyone shares his excitement.

His emphasis on more rotational forces, fewer traditional bases in Germany — and consequently fewer accompanied tours in Europe where servicemembers can bring their families — has become a matter of controversy.

Old friends

“We need boots on the ground in Europe,” said Tom Donnelly, an analyst for the American Enterprise Institute, military author and former editor of Army Times, in his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee in February. “Presence matters, and rotational troops cannot do all the jobs that need to be done. A mix of rotational and permanent basing is conceivable, but should be considered with caution.

“To be blunt, Berlin and Washington face the most serious crisis in relations since the alliance’s inception,” Donnelly said. “Calls for a complete withdrawal from Germany are a sure way to deepen that crisis, perhaps beyond the point of repair. Whatever our current problems may be, our long-term interest is not to create a permanent division between Old and New Europe.”

Robert Hunter, former U.S. ambassador to NATO and a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board under former Defense Secretary William Cohen, agrees.

“This is the worst time to be moving stuff out of Germany, particularly because a few loudmouths in the Pentagon said we were doing this to punish Germany,” Hunter said.

Hunter said changes are overdue, “but politically, the key here will be timing. We don’t want to send the wrong message.”

Jones said he has been trying to assuage any concerns among the allies. Any cuts, he said, would be based on military reasons and not on political backlash.

Uniform debate

Jones has to convince more than the NATO allies that his plan is for the best.

With the bulk of V Corps in Iraq, some troops and family members complain that talk of reshuffling units and big changes back home in Germany only fuel heightened anxiety levels.

Again, Jones has been trying to ease concerns.

“People should relax,” Jones told Stars and Stripes. “Whatever happens will be very thoughtful.”

Of larger concern for service leaders is that of sustaining Jones’ plan among an all-volunteer force. While many join the military for adventure and travel, these days families are becoming more a part of the equation.

With massive reductions of forces overseas following the Cold War, Europe has become one of the last places both travel and families could come together.

On a more pragmatic front, service leaders also know that re-enlistment rates are among the highest for forces in Europe.

Last year, for example, U.S. Army Europe nearly doubled its retention goals for first-term soldiers, according to Ron Canada, chief of the U.S. Army Personnel Command retention office in Washington, D.C.

According to a 2000 study by the Rand Corp., relying more on rotational forces in Europe “would entail substantial retention costs.”

For starters, if the Army had switched to a rotational force in Europe at the beginning of the peacekeeping effort in Bosnia, according to the study, soldiers with families would have faced as much as twice the amount of time away from home.

“Between 1 October 1994 and 31 August 1999, married soldiers spent an average of 23 to 26 percent of their term of enlistment deployed,” the report said. “If the Army had elected to deploy forces to, rather than station them in, Germany after the end of the Cold War, the average married soldier facing a re-enlistment decision between 1995 and 1999 would have spent 32 to 42 percent of an enlistment deployed away from his or her home station.”

Comparing those units that did deploy from the States on six-month tours with those that came from Europe, the study found that retention rates plummeted among the U.S.-based units. Of those units, 39 percent fewer soldiers with families opted to stay in the Army.

Deployment equations

U.S. Air Forces Europe commander Gen. Gregory Martin said he appreciates the desire to consolidate expensive base structure in Europe. But he would prefer to man most, if not all, of the new outposts in Eastern Europe and Africa with units rotating from existing bases in Western Europe.

The reason, he said, comes down to math.

To sustain constant rotations, he said, the Air Force would need four squadrons for every deployed squadron. So, for every three-month rotation overseas, airmen in a particular unit would have a year back in the United States for exercises, schools and other commitments. Fewer units in the cycle means less down time between deployments.

“Otherwise,” Martin said, “you start burning people out.”

To prevent that, the Air Force has learned to keep deployments short and families together.

Efficiency is another consideration, he said.

Martin said one idea, for example, is to slash all the fighter units in Europe and replace them with stateside rotational forces.

“We have to do the math and say, ‘Is it more efficient for me to have Queen Bee operations back in the States — but with more units on rotation — or have people forward in Europe able to deploy for two or three weeks at a time?’”

Martin thinks the latter.

Rather than tie up limited strategic airlift — ocean-crossing C-17 Globemasters for example — to bring over units, Martin argues that Europe’s civilian transportation network and more widely available fleet of smaller C-130 Hercules make it easier to get the job done more cheaply and more quickly.

Transforming EUCOM: Series index

Part 1: Mapping out the future of EUCOM

¶ Gen. Jones' plan could shift leaner units closer to hot spots¶ A closer look at the plan

Part 2: The opportunities in Eastern Europe

¶ Nations more accommodating to the needs of U.S. forces¶ Jones sees NATO overhaul¶ Wanted: Bulgaria's military properties¶ Russia pact may be sticking point in shift

Part 3: Zeroing in on the African continent

¶ Gen. Jones says military must pay attention to the region¶ Expansion on other side of the Mediterranean

Part 4: Consolidate and back to the States

¶ Effort to build mobile force could close some bases in Europe¶ Army studies forming careerlong brigades

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