USAREUR responds to critics of cutting welcome-home parties
February 20, 2007
HEIDELBERG, Germany — V Corps’ special troops battalion planned on big tents, hot food and a country singer to jazz up their welcome-home-from-Iraq party.
But in the end, there was no food, no singer — just the tent.
The party, estimated to cost some $250,000, was scrapped, a casualty of a decision announced by the Installation Management Command — just after the corps arrived back in Germany in December — to cancel funding for the parties. They had been held right after the official welcome-home ceremony.
V Corps soldiers and families were still invited to attend a welcome-home ceremony, which was combined with a welcome for their new commander, Lt. Gen. James Thurman, and his assumption of command ceremony.
To sweeten the deal, V Corps soldiers were also given a day off.
“There’s probably more than a few people that would prefer that,” said Maj. Mark Wright, a V Corps spokesman.
But not everyone was as sanguine over the decision to cut funding for the parties.
“I am simply appalled ...,” one man wrote in a letter to Stars and Stripes after a story about the matter ran. “How can there not be enough money to welcome back troops who have been risking their lives?”
Brig. Gen. Rusty Frutiger, U.S. Army Europe’s chief of staff, said in an interview last week that such criticism was unfounded. He called the party an “add-on” to the military ceremony and said they were nice but not essential.
“The add-on — the hamburgers and hot dogs at the end (of the official welcome-home ceremony) — while nice when we could afford it — we can’t afford it anymore,” he said.
Frutiger referred questions about how much U.S. Army Europe coffers had been cut and how much was expected to be saved by dropping the parties to the command G8 or comptroller.
But those numbers were not provided. Instead, officials released a statement that said “we are several million dollars short of validated operational requirements funding,” and that “even if we had the additional money, the types of events in question would not meet the funding priorities.”
Frutiger said the party money came from the Operations and Maintenance, Army account. That large and diverse fund must now be used solely for mission-essential items such as training. “Our No. 1 thing is to train soldiers for combat. Everything we do has that at the forefront,” he said.
OMA funds are also used for base renovations. “You don’t want me to fix housing? You don’t want me to fix playgrounds?” Frutiger said. “What don’t you want me to do to have hot dogs and hamburgers?
But some remained unconvinced, noting preparations at Campbell Barracks for Thurman’s assumption of command ceremony.
The V Corps ceremony cost $66,000 — with $59,000 of that due to the cost of the white tents with flooring, heat and lights, owned and operated by local nationals, Wright said. But since the ceremony for Thurman also served as the welcome-home ceremony for V Corps troops — those ceremonies are to proceed as usual — the extra cost for the assumption of command was minimal.
“We would have had the tents anyway,” Wright said.
A reception for dignitaries, including U.S., French and German generals, followed and cost another $6,000, Wright said.
The reception was paid for with money from “Official Representation Funds,” Wright said in an e-mail. “These funds are primarily used to extend official courtesies to authorized guests, which include host nation dignitaries and allied military officials.”
But discussing parties and assumption of command ceremonies at the same time is “mixing apples and oranges,” Frutiger said.
Changes of command ceremonies are done all the way up the chain, not just for generals, he said, and provide confidence in the promise that the chain of command will never be broken. “Change-of-command ceremonies have been done in the Army forever,” Frutiger said.
Likewise, he said, with a recent conference for garrison commanders in Vicenza, and an annual conference for USAREUR and European army brass held at a Heidelberg hotel in October that cost $270,000. “That’s business. That’s mission,” he said. “In my view, it’s not the same.”
And staff rides, in which officers travel to battle sites along with historians and authors providing commentary for three or four days? “Professional development,” Frutiger said. “And we used to do four a year. Now we do two.
“You can’t take the traditions away,” he said.
The parties have never been command-sponsored for combat troops deploying back to the United States, Frutiger said. “So we’re not taking away something everybody else is doing. We’re saying we can’t spend the money we did before.”
The era of the OMA-funded, post-deployment party, he said, is over.
Halsey, the retired sergeant major, was not mollified. Official welcome-home ceremonies are nice, he said, but they’re not enough. “You come back from combat and you practice three days for a parade? Yeah, that’s what counts,” he said ironically.
“I think there are enough things out there — changes of command, conferences, staff rides, a lot of unnecessary TDYs — we can find the money. What is our priority?” Halsey asked. “My nephew’s (in Iraq) for the second time. He’s 21. So when they come back, I think we need to find the funds to show we appreciate what they do.”
There is another possible avenue to help fund some sort of party, the official USAREUR statement said. “Commanders do have some options. They can use their unit funds (MWR) to accomplish these types of events. That is their call.”