Army Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, USAREUR deputy chief of staff, operations.

Army Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, USAREUR deputy chief of staff, operations. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

(Editor’s Note: A clarification to this article has been issued since its original publication.)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — In August 2004, President Bush endorsed the Pentagon’s plan for military transformation, which called for thousands of troops and civilians to be moved to the U.S. from Europe and Asia within 10 years.

But U.S. Army Europe has put its piece of the puzzle on the fast track. Its goal is to finish reducing and realigning its troops and units in five or six years, not 10.

“[Former USAREUR commander Gen. B.B. Bell] told us to try to get it done within five years,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, USAREUR’s deputy chief of staff for operations.

“Will we make it by fiscal year 2010? We’re trying hard to. I’d give it a 6-in-10 chance we will.”

The goal is to decrease the number of soldiers in Europe from 62,000 to 24,000. The tricky part, Hertling said, is mixing, matching and moving personnel and equipment to where they’re needed while at the same time performing missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Deployments to war zones, training missions in the Balkans, Africa and elsewhere, and other security needs could all affect the transformation time table.

In July, the Army announced that most of the 1st Infantry Division would be leaving the Würzburg, Germany, area by September. On Thursday, it announced that 7,200 soldiers in Hanau, Babenhausen and elsewhere would also be leaving this year.

The Wiesbaden-based 1st Armored Division is supposed to be returning to the U.S., and other units large and small will be shuffled back to the U.S. or within Europe.

The timing of those moves has been driven by real-world events, Hertling said, and not necessarily by a deadline. The moves made so far have been dictated by what the Army could do now, while also deciding what would have to wait until later.

All the while, Hertling said, the Army is trying to be sensitive to the people and places that would be affected.

“It’s really a very interesting choreography once you break it down,” Hertling said.

“One of the things we’ve really tried to work very hard is ensuring soldiers, family members, [German workers] and civilians are taken care of during this whole thing.”

For military families, factors taken into account include the school year as well as when soldiers return to Europe from deployments.

Host nations such as Germany need to be kept apprised, not surprised, military officials have said. Some German communities, such as Hanau and Babenhausen, will experience big drops in U.S.-generated business, and some Germans will likely lose their jobs as a result. Part of the plan is to help Germans and U.S. civilians get jobs elsewhere, Hertling said.

Other communities, such as Grafenwöhr, will see an increase in the U.S. military population and reap the economic benefits, he said.

“It’s really a mixed bag for our German partners,” Hertling said.

U.S. troops are typically moved every two to three years, so most families are used to packing up and leaving. Under the Army’s transformation, many will simply be moving to the U.S. instead of to some overseas base.

Other soldiers, however, will simply be moving down the road.

The new 12th Aviation Brigade (Combat Aviation Brigade) is scheduled to form up in the Ansbach area, with helipads in Katterbach and Illesheim. Many of those soldiers are currently based in Giebelstadt, about an hour’s drive to the northwest.

“A great many of those people who will make up that new (brigade) are in Afghanistan right now,” Hertling said. “There’s a young (Giebelstadt-based) soldier right now in Afghanistan who in the fall may be sitting on a base in Katterbach or Illesheim.”

The same thing applies to equipment, Hertling said.

Helicopters, for example, are being counted and decisions are being made as to which will be sent to the U.S., which will stay in Europe, and which need maintenance due to their heavy use in war zones.

“That’s [all] part of the exotic dance of making the pieces fit,” Hertling said.

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