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Michael Keller, Friedberg’s mayor, holds a blanket given to him by Michael Tucker, who commanded the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, during its first tour in Iraq.
Michael Keller, Friedberg’s mayor, holds a blanket given to him by Michael Tucker, who commanded the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, during its first tour in Iraq. (Matt Millham / S&S)

FRIEDBERG, Germany — In military towns, it isn’t uncommon for local businesses and civic leaders to greet troops returning from war with a sort of business-minded geniality.

It’s also not uncommon for troops, flush with cash from a year of tax-free paychecks and combat pay, to dump much of their hard-won riches into the local economy.

But when the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, returns home from its second tour in Iraq this month, it’s not likely to bring much of a windfall with it.

Soon after the brigade returns, its soldiers will get ready to leave again, this time for good. Within months of the brigade’s homecoming, half of its troops could be gone. By the end of the summer, the other half will leave as well.

“We know that the soldiers will come back soon,” said Michael Keller, Friedberg’s Bürgermeister, or mayor. “But they are also going soon with their families.”

When that happens, the city will lose about 10 percent of its revenue for natural gas and 15 percent of its water revenue.

“If you have a 10- or 15-percent loss, that is a lot of money,” Keller said.

The deployment, like others in the past, drew down the city’s water and gas revenues in much the same way, and Keller doesn’t expect the brigade’s brief return to have much of an effect on the city’s bottom line.

Local businesses aren’t likely to see much of a boon from the troops’ return either.

“The pubs and gasthauses, they said they lost up to 20 percent by losing the American boys as guests,” Keller said.

“It was noticeable that they’re not there — quite noticeable I might say,” said Renaldo Schedewie, head chef at Friedberger Brauhaus, one of the most popular restaurants in town.

Not only is he looking forward to the troops’ return, “Right now, we’re hoping they stay as long as possible,” Schedewie said, who said he’s been told the Americans should be gone by the end of the year, but who knows, he said. “It changes every five minutes.”

Café Kaktus, a local bar, also gets a lot of American customers. “In fact, they give us a lot of money if they are here,” Julia Braun, a manager at the bar, said.

Nevertheless, Braun is ambivalent about the brigade’s return. Some of her German customers aren’t big fans of the Americans because they are too loud, she said, and the Germans are her regular — and more reliable — customers.

Keller said that Friedberg, with its roughly 30,000 inhabitants, isn’t nearly as reliant on the money it gets from U.S. troops as are smaller towns, such as Baumholder, a town of roughly 4,000 Germans with a U.S. base that houses more than 10,000 soldiers and family members.

Still, some businesses bank heavily on soldier spending, and some of those are flourishing despite the deployment.

The local BMW dealership, for example, had its best year of military sales in 2006, said Greg Franklin, who handles military sales for the dealership.

He expects business to pick up even more when the soldiers return, and by no small margin. Normally he’ll sell about eight cars a month. “We’re hoping to average 16 cars a month” when they come back, he said.

Unlike Schedewie, Franklin isn’t concerned by the brigade’s permanent departure — at least not yet. “PCS business is good business,” he said, using the acronym for permanent change of station, the Army’s term for relocating soldiers. “When they find out they’re gonna PCS, they get hungry for a car.”

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