U.S. Operations, Basing in Europe Changing Dramatically
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 26, 2006 The U.S. military footprint in Europe is significantly changed from just a decade ago. Gone are dozens of American enclaves -- some self-contained communities complete with schools, shopping centers and housing complexes -- located throughout Western Europe, but primarily in Germany.
In their place soon will be small regional training centers in Romania and Bulgaria, through which U.S. combat brigades will rotate on training and regional-security-cooperation missions.
Transformation has been a dramatic process in U.S. European Command. In an interview yesterday with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service, Army Gen. William E. "Kip" Ward, the command's deputy commander, described some of the varied ways the U.S. military is changing how it does business in Europe, Eurasia and Africa.
The Eastern European Task Force will consist of a small permanent staff of U.S. servicemembers facilitating the rotation of U.S. brigades through Romanian and Bulgarian bases. These rotational brigades will conduct training with Eastern European militaries and be available to react to any potential developing crises in the region.
"The Eastern European Task Force is clearly an integral leg of a transformed U.S. European Command," Ward said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in April signed an agreement with Bulgaria granting the United States access to Bulgarian training bases. She signed a similar agreement with Romania in December.
Ward described this basing arrangement with the host countries as a win-win situation. The host countries get training from U.S. forces, and the United States spends less money on infrastructure and upkeep of facilities.
"We have the capability in that region to do some things with the existing infrastructure from the former Soviet days, capitalizing on some of their training grounds," Ward said. "We capitalize on what is there, because we go into existing locations and facilities. And I think we reap the benefit of that at a much-reduced cost, as opposed to going in and establishing a whole new infrastructure and base operations to support our training and security-cooperation requirements."
This arrangement also reinforces the notion of expeditionary forces, as employed throughout U.S. Central Command in the war on terrorism, he said.
Once the Army transformation process is further along in Europe, a Stryker brigade combat team of the 2nd Cavalry, scheduled to move to Germany from Fort Lewis, Wash., this summer, and the 173rd Brigade Combat Team, based in Vicenza, Italy, will be available to rotate through the Eastern European Task Force as well, Ward said.
Another valuable aspect of forward basing U.S. forces in Eastern Europe is the opportunity to help shape regional militaries so they can better interact with allies during combined operations. EUCOM, in close concert with NATO, is working to reinforce such concepts as an expeditionary force structure and a professional noncommissioned officer corps, Ward said.
"Transformation is not just about things. Transformation is about the intellectual aspects of thinking about the way you do business, as well," he said. "And, quite frankly, before the physical part of transformation occurs, that intellectual shift has to occur."
Such efforts benefit the United States as well, he said, because they make other countries better partners in the Long War.