Opening of AFN office in Kaiserslautern to pave way for larger relocation plan
May 14, 2013
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The breakroom’s 1950s mint-green walls still need to be painted over, and the last of the broadcast electronics need to be wired in, but the renovation of the American Forces Network’s Kaiserslautern station at Vogelweh is nearly complete.
Most listeners are probably unaware that the station’s radio broadcasts have emanated from a temporary facility down the road in Einsiedlerhof since 2010. If all goes according to plan, broadcasting will resume from the renovated station later this month.
If it doesn’t, the consequences could reverberate throughout AFN’s European operations.
The network is in the midst of its biggest reshuffling in at least 25 years, officials say, spurred largely by “transformation”— the catch-all term used to describe everything from unit relocations to base closures. AFN Europe has just months to execute a series of moves in quick succession, and everything has to happen just so to ensure that broadcasts continue uninterrupted.
“Everything hinges on everything else,” Lt. Col. Sherri Reed, AFN Europe’s commander, said. “It’s going to be a tight operation.”
By the end of the summer, AFN Stuttgart and AFN Kaiserslautern should be settled into their new homes, and AFN Europe headquarters, which has been located at Mannheim, will be split between temporary digs.
It will be about another year before a new AFN headquarters at Sembach Kaserne is open for business.
“We sincerely hope that it’s all seamless to [the audience] and they don’t notice anything,” George Smith, a spokesman for AFN Europe, said, “except maybe all of a sudden they’ve got a new neighbor.”
On its own, AFN Kaiserslautern’s renovation has nothing to do with transformation. The Cold War-era building, completed in 1954, was due for an overhaul, which began in 2010, Smith said. It was supposed to take just a year, but it has dragged on for three.
While the delay was unwelcome, it likely helped the network accommodate the transformation-related moves of the headquarters and AFN Stuttgart, said Curtis Young, who is overseeing the installation of the broadcast electronics in Kaiserslautern and will soon repeat the effort in Stuttgart.
Because the new headquarters at Sembach won’t be ready for about a year, roughly 60 headquarters personnel will temporarily set up at Ramstein and in the Einsiedlerhof space AFN Kaiserslautern is about to give up, Reed said.
Had AFN Kaiserslautern’s renovation gone according to schedule, Young said, “then we probably wouldn’t have had the swing space in Einsiedlerhof” because it would likely have been turned back over to the Air Force.
The headquarters could have stayed in Mannheim a bit longer to avoid splitting up in temporary offices, Smith said, but after the network’s experience in an earlier force realignment, AFN is eager to move out quickly.
The unit was nearly alone in Frankfurt for about five years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he said. Its closest support came from Rhein-Main Air Base, and trips there sucked up about a day and a half per person each week “just taking care of small things.”
“So we’re looking out for our people and trying to get them to a place where they can have all the things that you expect of being part of a military community,” such as commissaries and health clinics.
Most of those services have already closed in Mannheim, which has hosted AFN Europe’s headquarters since 2004. Heidelberg, the closest garrison with those amenities, is set for closure this summer.
That is putting pressure on Young and his team to quickly finish their work at AFN Kaiserslautern so they can turn their attention to AFN Stuttgart. Though the station underwent a name change last August from AFN Heidelberg to AFN Stuttgart, it has been broadcasting from a temporary studio in an old band facility at Mannheim’s Coleman Barracks ever since AFN Heidelberg was booted from Hammonds Barracks in 2009 in an earlier round of transformation.