By Ms. Lacey Justinger (Grafenwoehr)April 12, 2016
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany (12 April, 2016) -- As a plane flies overhead, hundreds of parachuting Soldiers fill the sky, floating down to land in fields surrounding a rural community in Germany.
During Saber Junction 16, nearly 1,000 multinational paratroopers will descend onto two maneuver rights areas (MRA) drop zones near Hohenfels Training Area (HTA), April 12.
MRAs are portions of land that the German Federal Ministry of Defense (MOD) authorizes NATO forces to use as temporary military maneuver and exercise areas, as part of the Supplementary Agreement to the NATO Status of Forces Agreement.
"It's important for us to do realistic and effective training exercises," said Ernest Roth, 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command maneuver liaison officer, adding that the cooperation and partnership between the German authorities and U.S. Army makes the MRA events possible.
MRAs are essential to providing diverse terrain for realistic training in Europe. When NATO forces need additional training space or special terrain -- such as airborne drop zones or river crossing sites -- that are not available on U.S.-controlled training areas in Germany, they work with the German MOD for approval on the establishment and use of a ground- or air-MRA.
"Before that request goes up, it's been carefully planned and vetted within our own organization," Roth said. "There has to be a specific military training reason for us to conduct military training exercises, like insufficient land or facilities. We just can't arbitrarily decide to do it because it sounds like a good idea."
For Saber Junction 16, Soldiers will conduct a large airborne jump and tactical movement into HTA, as HTA drop zones are located in areas that will not support two battalions during the tactical training scenario.
Once MRAs are identified and approved, the MOD notifies the German state, region and county governing entities, and the counties pass notifications down to the townships. During the notification process, both the U.S. Army and German MOD work together to explain the intended land use to affected landowners and communities.
Both the German agencies and the U.S. Army coordinate in the planning process to pay attention to flora and fauna, nature preserve and watershed areas. Nature preserves and parks, historical and cultural sites, and noise-sensitive areas like hospitals and urban areas are protected areas and off-limits for MRA requests.
The U.S. Army works closely with local landowners and community leaders to limit the inconveniences caused by MRAs, offering suggestions to the local German government to mitigate safety concerns and community impacts like road closures. Only the German authorities have the authorization to make the final determinations.
"There's very close coordination and planning with our German partners," Roth said, "but you're not going to do any maneuver training and not have any maneuver damage, that's impossible."
Roth explained that participating units must undergo maneuver damage prevention training to minimize and prevent maneuver damage to the greatest extent possible, while focusing on being a good steward of the environment and following environmental compliance rules.
The U.S. Army verifies, photographs and documents pre-existing and post-event damage. Damage claims are submitted to the township and forwarded to the German Institute for Federal Real Estate, known as the Bundesanstalt für Immobilienaufgaben or BImA. German claims adjusters who are subject matter experts in their fields determine the extent of the maneuver damage and recommend the payment amount to BImA. BImA makes the final decision on compensation after U.S. Army verification and agreement.
"We work very hard within our own organization and the German organization, who handles any maneuver damage claims, to ensure they are as rapidly and as fairly paid as possible because that's fair and right," Roth said.
The US government pays 75 percent of the damage claim and the German government pays 25 percent. For agricultural damage that may occur during Saber Junction, BImA will send claims adjustors from the farmers' association to determine crop and land damages.
Large-scale or brigade-sized MRA exercises occur in Germany approximately every 18-24 months; small-scale or battalion-sized or lower MRA events are scheduled throughout Germany around twice a month.
Throughout the MRA process, the U.S. Army works closely with German partners to alleviate off-post training impacts as much as possible for local communities.