WASHINGTON — Even as the U.S. Army’s contingent in Europe continues to shrink — losing 10,000 more soldiers to reach a postwar low of 30,000 by 2015 — service leaders say they actually plan to expand the force’s mission set.
Plans not only call for a series of rotational brigades to provide troops for an emerging NATO rapid response force, but Army leadership is looking at increasing some training activities with NATO partners while the force shifts troops from bases in Germany to Italy. There are also plans to host elements of the Colorado-based 10th Special Forces Group, which will provide a rapid reaction force to the AFRICOM commander.
The head of U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR), Lt. Gen. Don Campbell, recently outlined these emerging missions during a wide-ranging conversation in which he also detailed the movement of troops between Germany and Italy, which comes as U.S. forces restructure troops on the continent.
By the end of 2013, the 173rd Special Troops Battalion and 173rd Brigade Support Battalion will move from Bamberg, Germany, to the Del Din facility in Vicenza, Italy. This means that even with the U.S. drawdown of 10,000 troops overall, “nobody is leaving Italy,” Campbell stated. In fact, “in the grand scheme of things, we’ll grow numbers in Italy.”
Within Germany, the 1/91 Calvary Squadron and the 4th of the 319th Field Artillery battalion are moving from Schweinfurt to Grafenwoehr, where the service has conducted extensive renovations over the past decade. And with the deactivation of the 172nd Infantry Brigade once it fully redeploys from its rotation in Afghanistan, “we had an opportunity to keep those two units in Germany, and we have the infrastructure to support it,” Campbell said.
Even given the current budget constraints that the Department of Defense is working through, “I believe that we’ll be able to get the funding to continue with the transformation efforts this fiscal year,” Campbell said, “and we’ll begin a dialogue here soon for ’14 and beyond.”
Moving the two units to Grafenwoehr “just makes infinite sense,” he said, because they both require the room that the large outdoor training area provides to perform reconnaissance and fires training.
U.S. Army Europe (AREUR) also is slated to play a key role in a new Army initiative this fall, when elements of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Calvary Division head to Europe to act as the command’s first Regionally Aligned Brigade.
The 2nd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division is the only other Regionally Aligned Brigade assigned across the force — it’s heading to AFRICOM this spring — signaling that even as the Army begins to look to Africa as a place to begin its postwar incarnation, Europe is still high on its priority list.
Campbell said the 1/1’s brigade headquarters will head for Europe this fall, which he likened to “a combined arms battalion.” The rotational force mix is one that AREUR is planning on making a permanent part of its operations, with about “two rotations a year, somewhere around 60 days [each], but we want to kick off the first rotation this fall, probably right after the beginning of the fiscal year,” Campbell said.
The 1/1’s rotation looks to be busy. Not only will it assume a role as part of NATO’s Quick Reaction Force, where it will work “to address alliance missions from a training and readiness standpoint,” but it will also keep up a busy training schedule.
Campbell envisions using the soldiers to conduct training and to support exercises with allied nations, including some already planned NATO exercises in Poland. And the 1/1 will travel light, falling in on Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks already on the continent, which they’ll rail load for exercises at Hohenfels and Grafenwoehr in Germany.
Asked if budgets could scrub the mission, especially training with heavy equipment, Campbell said, “we’ve already got the depot capability” in Europe to maintain vehicles, but that “if we’re going to continue with the [regionally aligned] capability coming over here, then we’ve got to find the money to be able to pay for the equipment that we’re going to use to put these units through their paces.”
There are about 7,000 soldiers from AREUR serving in Afghanistan and in the Horn of Africa, and the 2nd Calvary Regiment is training up to deploy to Afghanistan as the 173rd redeploys. But even with all of that turnover, Campbell said his command still has “a robust capability with our enablers, especially with the 21st Theater Support Command, so our ability to continue to do theater security cooperation and exercises here in Europe with the 51 partner nations will still be pretty robust,” even as overall numbers drop.