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It turns out the 5th Signal Command won’t have to lay off any of its U.S. civilian employees after all.

In March, the command announced it was slashing 173 U.S. positions, as well as 157 jobs slotted for local employees. The cuts affected 27 units in Germany, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands.

But after the plan was announced, enough of the U.S. workers either found new jobs, or just quit, that the Mannheim, Germany-based command now says it can keep all of the U.S. employees who still remain.

“At this time, we do not have to RIF (reduction in forces) any of our U.S. employees,” said Col. Donna Kapunis, the command’s personnel chief. “It was a pleasant surprise.”

Local workers, however, are still faced with losing their jobs.

The 330 positions that are being cut make up about 30 percent of the command’s civilian workforce of 1,113. Some of the 330 positions already were vacant at the time of the announcement.

Affected employees include systems administrators and network managers who service the computer, telephone and video systems at bases within U.S. Army Europe.

The Army’s diminishing presence in Europe, scheduled to shrink from 64,000 soldiers in 2005 to 28,000 soldiers by about 2010 or 2011, caused the signal command to restructure its people and resources to fit the new, smaller footprint.

Command officials have stated that the change would appear seamless to customers in terms of the service they are provided.

After the announcement, angst set in among some systems administrators and network managers whose careers were at a crossroads.

German system administrator Peter Heinrich, one of 50 civilians working with the 69th Signal Battalion in Würzburg, Germany, said the battalion is in the process of moving to Grafenwöhr, and that only two of the civilian workers would move with the battalion.

“Some in Würzburg have been offered jobs, but most will be without jobs from March 31, 2007,” said Heinrich, who has worked for the Army for 25 years.

“I was lucky. I found another [Internet technology] job for MWR, but within 5th Signal there will be no local-nationals with IT jobs.”

Another German IT worker with the 69th, Guido Fausel, 36, said he expected to lose his job next year after 16 years with the unit.

Fausel, whose wife is expecting her second child in eight weeks, said he would apply for another job with the U.S. Army, then look to the German economy if he was unsuccessful.

“Right now it is hard to find a job outside,” he said. “It is 10 percent unemployment in the Würzburg area.”

Jan Frutiger, civilian executive adviser with the command’s 2nd Signal Brigade, acknowledged that some of the civilian staff is disgruntled and claim that service cannot help but suffer because of fewer employees.

“Change is always a frightening thing,” Frutiger said. “Some people embrace it, and some people fight it.

“Those who embrace it, we bring along. Those who push back, we’ll drag along for as long as we can.”

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