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The outgoing commander of U.S. Army Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, left, passes the unit's colors to Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, at the relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony for Hodges at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.

The outgoing commander of U.S. Army Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, left, passes the unit's colors to Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, at the relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony for Hodges at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

The outgoing commander of U.S. Army Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, left, passes the unit's colors to Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, at the relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony for Hodges at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.

The outgoing commander of U.S. Army Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, left, passes the unit's colors to Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, at the relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony for Hodges at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the outgoing commander of U.S. Army Europe talks with officers from other militaries before his relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the outgoing commander of U.S. Army Europe talks with officers from other militaries before his relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, applauds the soldiers of U.S. Army Europe during the relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony for USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command, applauds the soldiers of U.S. Army Europe during the relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony for USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

The acting commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, Maj. Gen. Tim McGuire, smiles during the relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony for outgoing USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.

The acting commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, Maj. Gen. Tim McGuire, smiles during the relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony for outgoing USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

The honor guard during the playing of the national anthems of Germany and the United States at the relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony for outgoing USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.

The honor guard during the playing of the national anthems of Germany and the United States at the relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony for outgoing USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

The outgoing commander of U.S. Army Europe Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, left, listens as Maj. Gen. Tim McGuire, the acting commander, answers a journalists question at a press conference before the relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony for Hodges at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. A a permanent replacement for Hodges has not yet been named.

The outgoing commander of U.S. Army Europe Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, left, listens as Maj. Gen. Tim McGuire, the acting commander, answers a journalists question at a press conference before the relinquishment of command and retirement ceremony for Hodges at Clay Kaserne in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. A a permanent replacement for Hodges has not yet been named. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

WIESBADEN, Germany — The Army general who oversaw the most significant buildup of U.S. troops and infrastructure since the end of the Cold War retired Friday after more than three years in command.

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges took the reins of U.S. Army Europe in late 2014, in the wake of the Russian intervention in Ukraine, and immediately began managing an intensive NATO and U.S. program to beef up its deterrence on the alliance’s eastern flank.

Since then, tank and helicopter brigades have rotated through Europe and military vehicles, and equipment have been pre-positioned in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. In addition, the alliance has stationed four battle groups along the Russian frontier — one each in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

“We do not want to be in a state of perpetual confrontation. We want Russia to once again be a part of the international democratic community, a great nation that contributes to stability and security in Europe and around the world,” Hodges said before his retirement ceremony at USAREUR headquarters in Wiesbaden. “But Russia must abide by its agreements and international law and norms and respect the sovereignty of European nations. Then we can get back to playing hockey again.”

Countering Russian expansionism hasn’t been an easy task. Drawdowns after the Cold War and during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reduced the number of permanent forces in Europe to just 30,000 troops and the last U.S. tanks were withdrawn from the Continent.

One of Hodges’ catchphrases was the need to make that 30,000 appear to be 300,000. He has followed that up with an emphasis on mobility and cooperation with NATO allies.

The existing rail network is still insufficient, Hodges said. “That’s an area we can improve, and I think the European Union will play a critical role.”

Under Hodges’ tenure, frequent exercises in Eastern Europe and Germany stretched thin the two remaining combat brigades in Europe — the 2nd Cavalry Regiment and the 173rd Airborne Brigade. The addition of the heel-to-toe rotational program — now in its second year — has helped with manpower. But if the Army expands further, Hodges said, he’d like to see some of those resources come to Europe.

“Some capabilities that would be helpful are logistics, transportation, engineers, missile defense. We have these, but to increase the capacity would make us even more effective,” he said.

During the ceremony, Hodges was presented with medals and awards from Gen. Curtis Scaparroti, U.S. European Command chief and NATO’s supreme commander. The outgoing USAREUR chief praised the efforts of his host nation Germany and other alliance members. He called Germany America’s “indispensable partner and ally” and reiterated his view that NATO is the “most successful” and “most important” security alliance in the world.

Hodges will retire to his home state of Florida, where he plans to work for the Center for European Policy Analysis, a think tank.

Maj. Gen. Timothy McGuire, USAREUR’s deputy commanding general since summer 2016, will serve as acting USAREUR commander until a replacement for Hodges is found.

stoutamire.dan@stripes.com Twitter: @DKS_Stripes


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