European edition, Saturday, June 9, 2007

U.S. Army Europe had a major birthday Friday, its 65th, but there was no party, no balloon drop, no commemorative slaps on the rump.

Instead, USAREUR, the Army service component of the U.S. European Command, continued with business as usual, taking no more than a moment to recognize the milestone.

“We’re not going to stop things just to celebrate history,” said Bruce Anderson, a USAREUR spokesman. “We’re going to focus on now.”

The Army in Europe is busy juggling the preparation of its troops for war and shipping them off and what it calls transformation — an initiative that is reducing the number of U.S. soldiers in Europe and changing how the remaining units are structured.

Looking back at its history, transformation is nothing new for USAREUR; preparing for large deployments, historically, is.

The command was established in 1942 with an even longer and more complicated name: European Theater of Operations, United States Army. It changed names in 1945, 1947 and, finally, in 1952 when it got its current moniker. New names, though, weren’t the only changes for USAREUR.

After World War II ended in 1945, the number of soldiers in Europe plummeted from almost 2 million to about 86,000 by 1950. That number almost tripled by 1952 in response to the communist threat.

When the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, the command’s ranks beefed up to more than 277,000. At its greatest strength, USAREUR commanded a numbered army — the 7th — two corps, five divisions, three armored cavalry regiments, an infantry regiment, the Southern European Task Force in Italy, and a logistical command, according to the USAREUR History Office Web site.

USAREUR deployed in the Cold War years, but most of those operations were small humanitarian efforts. The largest deployment of U.S. forces from Europe between World War II and the Gulf War came in 1958 when 8,509 soldiers deployed to Lebanon at the request of the Lebanese president to stave off the collapse of his government.

After 1961, USAREUR was occupied with the defense of West Germany’s borders with East Germany and Czechoslovakia, according to one of the command’s histories, “From the Fulda Gap to Kuwait.”

Since the wall fell in 1989, USAREUR has closed more than 600 of its facilities in Europe, and its troop strength stands at about 53,000. That number continues on a downward spiral even as nearly all of the command’s combat troops — an armored brigade, an aviation brigade, a Stryker cavalry regiment, an infantry brigade, an airborne brigade and a division headquarters — are deployed or are preparing to go to war.

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