HEIDELBERG, Germany -- When Air Force Staff Sgt. Nick Kibbey arrived in Mannheim last November, the morning show radio announcer heard his unit, American Forces Network-Europe, was moving to Sembach Kaserne.
His wife, Shiloh, is a nurse looking for work at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. His son Royce, 5, is starting kindergarten. They are expecting a baby in March. Moving now makes sense, Kibbey said.
"For me it's just getting to where we're going, to be settled and focused on things," Kibbey said. "We want to do the move and try to achieve our short and long terms goals."
That's exactly what Army leaders at U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Württemberg hope service members will consider, as a new U.S. Army Europe order directs all military personnel to depart the Heidelberg and Mannheim areas by Aug. 31, 2013. Soldiers and their families should begin planning now, said Col. Bryan DeCoster, USAG-BW commander.
"We want people to be proactive," DeCoster said. "This is going to happen."
The orders mostly impact three Mannheim units. AFN headquarters and the U. S. Army Corrections Facility -- Europe, both based at Coleman Barracks, will move to Sembach once buildings are made ready. The European Theater Network Operations Support Center at Mannheim's Funari Barracks will eventually become the Information Processing Center at Wiesbaden's Clay Kaserne.
Coleman, Funari and Spinelli Barracks will be work sites. Personnel will commute from either the Kaiserslautern or Wiesbaden area. Units may establish shuttles to make it easier for Soldiers.
Some changes take effect immediately, DeCoster said. Soldiers and civilians on high-cost moves will no longer come to USAG B-W starting in September 2012. Instead, they will be diverted to either Kaiserslautern or Wiesbaden. Soldiers and civilians on low-cost moves will be diverted beginning no later than January 2013.
"The directive that everybody will move to their gaining location, in this case either Kaiserslautern or Wiesbaden, allows the closure of Patrick Henry Village and the community shopping center earlier than anticipated under our original plan," DeCoster said.
Leaders remain committed to providing a high quality of life during the garrison's final year. But, services will end at when the garrison deactivates on Sept. 30, 2013, DeCoster said.
The accelerated timeline affects roughly 230 military members, plus their families and government civilians, said Dianne Hamilton, director of USAG-BW's transformation. The Army has closed several installations in Europe over the past decade. Experience from those closures has guided current plans, Hamilton said.
"Once you get a population under 500, you have a hard time providing a level of services and support that's commensurate to what we want for our Soldiers, civilians and family members," Hamilton said. "It's better to have people move to places with robust services."
In May, AFN-Europe leaders held a meeting to discuss transformation and find out who would like to move early, said Kibbey, 31, a nine-year Air Force veteran.
"I'll go ahead and move," Kibbey said. "It makes sense for me, with a son in school and my wife looking for a job."
He's already checked out the Kaiserslautern Military Community for schools, day care and other services. The Army agreed with his plan. Kibbey's now awaiting Air Force approval for his move, which raises some questions, he said.
Communicating with the community and answering service members' questions, is key to success, DeCoster said.
On Sept. 7, the garrison hosts a town hall meeting from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at PHV's Village Pavilion. Also, community members can take part through Facebook and AFN. Also, the Herald Post newspaper will continue to provide the latest transformation updates.
DeCoster is optimistic because of recent successes. Roughly 20 units in USAG-BW were already moved or inactivated this year. Now, Mannheim's Benjamin Franklin Village -- a housing area larger than PHV -- is set to close.
"We have not slipped off timeline at all," DeCoster said. "Through this process we've shown that with the right emphasis, plus leaders and the community pulling together, it can be done very effectively."