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Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, operations chief and deputy chief of staff for U.S. Army Europe, talks about Army transformation in Europe during an interview with Stars and Stripes in his office on Campbell Barracks in Heidelberg, Germany.

Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, operations chief and deputy chief of staff for U.S. Army Europe, talks about Army transformation in Europe during an interview with Stars and Stripes in his office on Campbell Barracks in Heidelberg, Germany. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — The conversation began with a caveat.

“I can talk our plan all the way through and what we are trying to do,” Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling said. “What I can’t do in some cases is give specifics, because the process of what we call ‘host-nation notification’ is a very tedious and bureaucratic process.”

Hertling, U.S. Army Europe’s point man on transformation, played things close to the vest during a recent hourlong discussion on the state of Army changes in Europe. Yet, there was enough said about the plan and the process — likely to last well into the next decade — to give interested parties plenty to pore over.

Hertling referred to the process as an intricate dance, one involving a host of players from German labor leaders, government officials and local community representatives to the U.S. State Department, the White House and various commands and staffs within the Department of Defense.

In a way, much has changed since USAREUR announced in June its transformation and rebasing plans for fiscal year 2007.

With Iraq at the boiling point, talk of a troop reduction has given way to talk of an increase. At the Pentagon, a changing of the guard is afoot. The same applies to Congress. And, due to war and building delays, a brigade of the 1st Armored Division will be sticking around Europe a while longer.

Asked if that means the 1st AD might deploy from Europe to Iraq a third time, the deputy chief of staff for operations didn’t rule it out.

“Anything is possible,” Hertling said as he sat at a small conference table in his wood-paneled office in Heidelberg.

“What I’ve seen in this job, what is amazing, is that every day you come in and you get another requirement that you didn’t expect you would get,” he said. He added that if another tour to Iraq becomes necessary, “we would adjust.”

But while “anything is possible,” Hertling often referred back to the core plan: to have, by summer 2012, a force of around 28,000 soldiers at six geographic hubs. The sites are:

Kaiserslautern: sole logistics hub, which complements Air Force logistics efforts.Wiesbaden: 7th Army command and control headquarters. Also to include a brigade each of intelligence and signal personnel.Ansbach area (Katterbach and Illesheim): base of operations for the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade.Grafenwöhr area (Vilseck and Hohenfels): home of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Stryker) as well as a military police brigade and an engineer brigade. It is also USAREUR’s main training area.Dal Molin, Italy: future home of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.Joint Task Force East: a force of stateside brigades rotating into Eastern Europe for up to six months. Based at training sites in southeastern (Smardan and Babadag) Romania and central (Novo Selo) Bulgaria, the force would include airmen and Marines.“Our plan has an anticipated end-date of 2012,” Hertling said. “We hope to have everything set by 2012. Will we make it? If everything goes according to plan, yeah, but, see, we don’t even control some of the plan.”

Hertling was referring to issues beyond USAREUR’s control that could force an adjustment to the plan.

For instance, the command is banking on an upcoming military construction bill including funding for Dal Molin. Until the project is funded and finished, the brigade will be split between Schweinfurt and Bamberg north of the Alps and Vicenza, Italy, to the south. Congressional support for the construction effort looks promising, Hertling said, but there are concerns in the Italian community.

Schweinfurt and Bamberg “may be around for a long time,” Hertling said, though he later added that “as part of the plan, they are not sticking around” forever.

Other communities — and satellite installations — destined for closure are Darmstadt, Hanau, Mannheim and Heidelberg, he said. He said he believes “Heidelberg will be the last place that will close.”

The 2nd Brigade, 1st AD will remain in Baumholder for the time being.

“The 1st Armored Division is remaining longer than we thought it would because of some issues, not only back at Fort Bliss, in terms of construction time lines, but also just because of the overall strategy of the Department of Defense,” Hertling said.

“They’ve asked us to maintain the 1st Armored Division longer than we had anticipated. We thought they were going to go back to the States in ’09. Now it’s probably going to be ’10.”

Friedberg and Giessen will technically remain open into fiscal 2008, but by late next summer they’ll seem rather ghostly. The same empty feeling is descending on Würzburg, once the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division.

Mannheim poses some interesting challenges, especially at Coleman Barracks, which, among other things, is home to the new American Forces Network headquarters as well as the U.S. military’s primary prison. AFN spent roughly $13 million on renovations and equipment earlier this decade before moving in.

Regarding the prison, Hertling said the need for a long-term facility will abate as the number of servicemembers decreases.

“We have even, as part of this transformation plan, picked a new facility,” Hertling said, though he immediately added that other options exist.

Given all the variables at play, slight adjustments to the master plan shouldn’t surprise anyone. In fact, Hertling indicated the number of enduring communities could grow.

“One of those communities may actually stay open,” the two-star general said. “And don’t ask me which one.”

The transformation of U.S. Army forces in Europe comes at a time when it is sending troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting as best as it can the needs of soldiers and families.

Asked if the Army’s rucksack is overloaded, Hertling smiled knowingly.

“It’s what we do,” Hertling said. “We’re soldiers. You can either wring your hands or roll up your sleeves, but you can’t do both.”

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