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Smith Barracks dominates Baumholder's otherwise rural setting. The White House budget calls for $78 million in special operations-related construction there. The budget also includes major housing and school projects in Baumholder. The budget proposal also would spend on construction on other bases in Germany and Italy.

Smith Barracks dominates Baumholder's otherwise rural setting. The White House budget calls for $78 million in special operations-related construction there. The budget also includes major housing and school projects in Baumholder. The budget proposal also would spend on construction on other bases in Germany and Italy. (Stars and Stripes)

The groundwork is being laid to turn a sleepy German garrison town into a hub for U.S. special operators in Europe as the Pentagon looks to spend millions on base improvements, budget documents show.

Tucked into the White House’s 2023 budget request is a series of projects totaling more than $200 million that will provide U.S. Special Operations Command with a foothold, while also adding housing and family resources for the military community in Baumholder.

During the Cold War, the town near the rural western edge of the state of Rheinland-Pfalz had the largest concentration of American combat forces in Europe. But now it serves mostly as a home for logistics units.

The Defense Department’s budget plan sets aside $78 million to build a special operations battalion annex and three other annexes for communications, operations and support missions at Baumholder’s Smith Barracks.

Beyond that, details are scant. Special Operations Command Europe didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the project.

After capturing a "terrorist," special operations forces speed away from the scene during an exercise hosted by the U.S. Special Operations Command Europe at Baumholder, Germany, in 2014. Groundwork is being laid to turn Baumholder into a hub for U.S. special operations forces in Europe.

After capturing a "terrorist," special operations forces speed away from the scene during an exercise hosted by the U.S. Special Operations Command Europe at Baumholder, Germany, in 2014. Groundwork is being laid to turn Baumholder into a hub for U.S. special operations forces in Europe. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

However, plans have been in the works for years to shift hundreds of special operations troops based in Stuttgart to Baumholder.

Former SOCOM chief Gen. Tony Thomas confirmed the plan in 2018, when he heralded the idea of sending Green Berets and Navy SEALs to Baumholder, where they could take advantage of the wide-open spaces and training grounds.

At the Army’s garrison in Stuttgart, a congested metropolis, the presence of U.S. special operators has long been an irritant to residents upset about the regular crackle of gunfire from an Army range near a housing area.

In last year’s defense budget, the Army received $17.5 million for an indoor small-arms range and an additional $16 million for a “shoothouse” for live-fire exercises in Baumholder.

The Army’s 2023 budget request also calls for other spending in Baumholder, including a major family housing project. The plan is to build 64 new units at a cost of $57 million. The proposal also allocates $74 million for a new elementary school.

Special operations forces storm off  a U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey during an exercise hosted by the U.S. Special Operations Command Europe at Baumholder, Germany, in 2014. Groundwork is being laid to turn Baumholder into a hub for U.S. special operations forces in Europe.

Special operations forces storm off a U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey during an exercise hosted by the U.S. Special Operations Command Europe at Baumholder, Germany, in 2014. Groundwork is being laid to turn Baumholder into a hub for U.S. special operations forces in Europe. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

For Baumholder, the upgrades are part of an ongoing effort to renovate an installation that was once on the Army’s chopping block in connection with a long post-Cold War drawdown.

For years, the garrison received little funding to make improvements. But in 2015, the Army declared Baumholder one of its “enduring” installations, and money began to flow back in.

Other major military construction projects for European bases in the 2023 budget plan include initiatives that have been under development for years.

Chief among them is a new military hospital at Rhine Ordnance Barracks, which is slated to get $299 million in funding in 2023.

The Army budget also calls for $168 million in upgrades at its training base in Grafenwoehr, the largest such facility in Europe, and $95 million for new housing at the garrison in Vicenza, Italy.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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