By Gary SheftickSeptember 13, 2013
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 13, 2013) -- U.S. Army Europe closed its garrison and former headquarters last week in Heidelberg, Germany, and the U.S. Army Europe commander said two more major garrisons will close during his command's transformation to a smaller and more agile force.
Schweinfurt and Bamberg will close by 2015, said Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr., U.S. Army Europe, or USAREUR, commander, during a bloggers roundtable teleconference, Sept. 12, from his new headquarters in Wiesbaden. He added that U.S. Army Europe will downsize over the next five years to less than 30,000 Soldiers.
"You know, we were at 213,000 Soldiers in the United States Army Europe in 1989," Campbell said. Today, the force is at about 32,000 Soldiers.
"If you look at it and think about it from a transformation standpoint, I wouldn't argue in any way that we need 200,000-plus," Campbell said, explaining that times have changed since the Cold War.
"I'm very comfortable as a commanding general telling you that we can do it with 30,000 Soldiers that we'll maintain in the future," he said.
"USAREUR has adapted and transformed," Campbell said. "And I like to think that we're more agile and mobile, to support national security interests that are here, because it's such a great launching pad to get to different parts of the world."
In the next five years, Campbell said USAREUR will downsize to seven major garrisons. In the last 20 years, he said more than 580 U.S. installations have closed in Europe. Mannheim cased its colors at the end of May.
Seven major garrisons are expected to remain open in Europe. In Germany, Grafenwoehr, Kaiserslautern, Ansbach, Wiesbaden, and Stuttgart will remain. Benelux garrison in Belgium and Luxembourg is also programmed to stay open for the long-term, as is Vicenza, Italy.
Campbell said there will also be sub-installations, numbering between 58 and around 70, depending on what the Office of the Secretary of Defense decides.
Sequestration is also affecting training, Campbell said. Collective training is now primarily at the platoon level and below, he said, adding that could over time degrade readiness at the company level and above.
"But we're looking for creative ways, as I said, using simulations, trying to partner with some of our European and NATO allies to do training and exercises," he said.
One innovation, which will begin this fall, is the rotation of battalion combat teams from the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, to support the training mission in Europe.
"You know, it's going to be a great opportunity for that unit to come over in the fall, and then again in the spring, and then again in the fall next year -- two rotations a year at about 60 days at a time to train here -- to participate as part of the NATO Response Force and the European Response force that we've designated," Campbell said.
Different battalion task forces from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, will rotate over. They will participate in computer-assisted simulations and also tactical exercises. They will train with NATO partners and other nations, he said.
The long-term vision in Europe, Campbell said, includes both partnering with and training with the NATO response force as part of combined exercises.
Campbell said USAREUR will also continue a big focus on theater security cooperation as the force transforms.
The garrison in Heidelberg had its closing ceremony Sept. 7. Campbell was stationed there, from 2005 to 2007, as chief of staff of V Corps. Campbell spent about eight years there in total, and said the closing was emotional, especially when he attended a farewell dinner with the German community earlier this summer.
"There was a lump in my throat," he said. "There was some sadness."
"So, yeah, it was a tough day. It was a sad day. But it really highlighted what I call -- not the end -- but the continued transformation of United States Army in Europe," he said.
As part of that transformation, the 170th Infantry Brigade was inactivated last October in Baumholder, Germany, and the 172nd Infantry Brigade, headquartered in Grafenwoehr, cased its colors in June.
That leaves the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Germany -- now deployed in Afghanistan -- and 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, as the major U.S. Army combat units in Europe, along with the 12th Aviation Brigade.
As Schweinfurt, Bamberg and other garrisons in Germany prepare to close, Campbell said USAREUR will work closely with the U.S. Army Installation Management Command Europe to ensure Soldiers and civilians continue to have access to services such as medical care and post exchanges as long as possible.
"So I can assure you, it's a very synchronized process," Campbell said. "Is it perfect? No. But are we doing a good job to make sure that everybody understands when the services are going to move on and when we're going to move them? Yes, they know.
"And we're doing our best to continue as long as we can, to maintain services, obviously, in Bamberg and Schweinfurt, but it'll be the same thing," Campbell explained. "It'll be a cascading, synchronized process to make sure that everybody gets taken care of until the last Soldier leaves or the last civilian shuts off the lights and hands the keys to the mayors of Bamberg and Schweinfurt."