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Sandy Wagner, left, and Sven Froehlich, right, work on two customers Friday at Sandy's Hairstyling Salon in Kaiserslautern. About 70 percent of the salon's clientele are Americans.
Sandy Wagner, left, and Sven Froehlich, right, work on two customers Friday at Sandy's Hairstyling Salon in Kaiserslautern. About 70 percent of the salon's clientele are Americans. (Lisa Horn / S&S)

RAMSTEIN, Germany — The Kaiserslautern area is home to so many Yanks that many simply call the towns and villages in the region “Little America.”

And Little America — home to more than 44,000 Americans — packs a pretty fat pocketbook.

In fiscal 2003, the Kaiserslautern Military Community pumped nearly $1.29 billion into the area’s economy, according to the most recent annual economic impact report. That’s up by $200,000 from fiscal 2002, said Dane McKenzie, supervisory financial management specialist with the 435th Comptroller Squadron at Ramstein Air Base.

The annual report comes as many U.S. military communities in Western Europe are trembling over the U.S. European Command’s transformation plan. That plan, spearheaded by EUCOM Commander Marine Gen. James Jones, could shift forces to such places as Bulgaria, Romania and Poland in Eastern Europe and Djibouti in Eastern Africa.

That may mean the U.S. military presence of about 100,000 troops elsewhere in Europe might dwindle.

However, Jones has pledged to keep several U.S. bases in Germany, including the air bases at Ramstein and Spangdahlem and the Army training area at Grafenwöhr. The future of some of the Kaiserslautern area’s Army population — about 4,800 troops and 6,500 dependents — hasn’t been singled out for discussion.

The economic impact report is prepared every year by the base comptroller. It helps give the base and community commanders another tool to justify federal appropriations and to gauge the importance of the American presence, McKenzie said. If, for example, there was talk of closing Ramstein, the commander would have a way to illustrate the massive blow on the local community.

For Sandy Wagner, owner of Sandy’s Hairstyling Salon in Kaiserslautern, a troop departure would greatly affect the way she does business, she said. Roughly 70 percent of her clientele is American.

“It would be a disaster for the area if the Americans would leave,” Wagner said.

The KMC includes five major Air Force installations and 10 major Army installations. Along with the Army troops and their families, the area is home to 9,400 active-duty Air Force members and their 10,900 dependents; 200 Air Force Reserve, Army National Guard and Navy members; 6,370 U.S. civilians and their 3,520 dependents and 1,045 military retirees and their 1,690 dependents.

The report also factors in the 6,190 host-nation employees who draw their salaries from the military community.

From KMC members’ pocketbooks — with a combined annual payroll of $1.22 billion — flows enough money each year to nearly fund Wyoming’s annual state budget.

And the region is expected to reap increased benefits from the American presence here at least through next year as Rhein-Main Air Base closes, transferring airlift duties and some personnel to Ramstein.

That may also boost the already hefty amount spent on construction, services and materials in the KMC, which is worth nearly $179 million a year, the report stated.

One of the biggest boons to the local economy is the money spent on housing, McKenzie said. Military members pay about $129.5 million in off-base housing costs, with nearly half of that being paid by civilians.

“We live here about 50 years with U.S. citizens and we understand a little bit [about] the American way of living … a built-in kitchen, all the light fixtures in, the curtains stay, the wardrobes stay,” said Peter Scherer, who tries to outfit his properties according to American standards.

“Our economy needs the American families here,” said Scherer, who leases 10 of his 14 Ramstein/Landstuhl area properties to Americans.

In addition, the military helps create 12,800 indirect jobs — or jobs not on base — in the community worth nearly $429 million a year.

“Since we’re spending money off base, we’re indirectly creating jobs off base just by paying for goods and services,” McKenzie said.

At her salon, Wagner employs 12 people, all of whom are German. Troops leaving the area in the future, however, may mean a smaller staff, she said.

“I think it would definitely mean we would have to change things very quickly, change things around and — we’ve got 12 people working here now — and it might even mean that we can’t afford so many people,” she said.

“A lot of things are existing because of the air base,” said Klaus Layes, mayor of Ramstein.

In addition to servicemembers and their families, workers brought in for Ramstein Air Base’s ongoing construction projects also contribute to the local economy.

“They earn money here and they also spend this money here,” Layes said.

“The effect is like a domino effect. If you see it if the base closed, you would see this domino effect in the other way, and it’s absolutely clear that it would definitely impact the whole area.”


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