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Milley wants the military to move away from permanent overseas basing of troops

U.S. service members depart a Patriot Express at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020.

MATTHEW KEELER/STARS AND STRIPES

By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 3, 2020

WASHINGTON — The military needs to move away from units being permanently based overseas and focus more on rotational deployments, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday.

“I am not a fan of large, permanent military bases from the U.S. overseas in other people's countries. I think that is something that needs a hard, hard look,” Army Gen. Mark Milley said during a defense forum in Washington, D.C., hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute.

The number of American military units and troops stationed permanently overseas have dropped during the last two decades, such as U.S. Army Europe garrisons in Germany. As of June, many families are now restricted by the Pentagon from accompanying their service member to Bahrain and Qatar in the Middle East due to security concerns with Iran in the region.

There are about 40 installations overseas, mainly in Europe and Asia, where defense personnel live and work, according to the Pentagon. More than 220,800 service members and civilians are serving abroad as of November, with about 29,500 in South Korea and 60,920 in Japan, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center. These numbers do not include family members who might be living with them.

Milley acknowledged there’s “no enthusiasm” for suggesting rotational forces over permanent overseas assignments, as many service members enjoy the overseas assignments with their families. Some countries also like having the permanent presence, he said, but those accompanying assignments bring risk. The amount of families living in South Korea with the threat of North Korea nearby has been a security challenge for decades, Milley said.

“If something were to happen, then we would have a significant amount of noncombatant, U.S. military dependents in harm's way. I have a problem with that. I don't have a problem with us, those of us in uniform, be in harm's way. This is what we get paid for, this is what our job is,” said Milley.

Instead, having service members in forward bases on a rotational basis “is a smart strategic choice,” he said.

Many of the locations where the United States has overseas bases are because of World War II or the Cold War, Milley said. Going forward, the United States should look at locations that are more selective, he said.

“I have no problem with forward presence, but I think it should be selective, more selective than what we are. And it should be explicitly designed to achieve a strategic purpose, relative to the goals and the reality of the world that we see coming,” he said.

Milley did not say whether there was any timeline or group that would be looking at scaling down overseas bases.

kenney.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @caitlinmkenney