ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. military officials are in negotiations with host nations to consolidate Army, Navy and Air Force special operations units now spread throughout Europe to a consolidated outpost either in Spain or Sicily, according to the top commander of military forces in Europe.
Any plan would go to Congress for funding.
In an exclusive interview with Stars and Stripes, Marine Gen. James Jones, the chief of U.S. European Command, said the proposal is part of his sweeping reorganization of forces in Europe that will return thousands of troops back to the United States and consolidate remaining units into a small group of new basing hubs.
Jones hopes to reorganize forces to tackle emerging threats in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and much of Africa.
The Army will see the most changes, with 239 installations spread across 16 major communities mostly in Germany whittled down to a few dozen installations at five main hubs — four in Germany and one in Italy.
Jones said those five hubs would include the GrafenwÃ¶hr training area including Wiesbaden; Hohenfels-Vilseck; posts near Ramstein Air Base, including Kaiserslautern; a new consolidated aviation brigade hub in the Ansbach-Illesheim area; and Army facilities around Vicenza, Italy, including an expanded Dal Molin air field to make room a third airborne infantry battalion and new support units under the Southern European Task Force.
Also, the Stuttgart area will remain as the host for U.S. European Command headquarters.
Congress is getting the bill for the initial stages for Jones’ plan now, including more than $1 billion earmarked for next year for improvements to “enduring”? facilities in Europe.
“There’s sticker shock here. It’s very expensive,”? Jones told Stripes. Although he could not immediately put a price tag on the effort, he added, “It’s a big bill. It’s a huge bill.”?
Also, the upcoming Base Realignment and Closure process in the United States will play a key role in Europe’s plans, said Jones, especially in determining where units will relocate as they leave.
Meanwhile, he said, “tweaking continues”? on the overall plan.
Tucked inside Jones’ prepared testimony before Congress this week are a slew of new details on what that plan includes. Among them:
Â¶ Special Operations — Currently the Army’s 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group is based in Germany, the Navy’s SEAL teams split are between Spain and Germany and the Air Force’s 352nd Special Operations Group based at RAF Mildenhall, England. Jones said he hopes to consolidate the units onto one base. The two best candidates, he said, are existing Navy bases in either Rota, Spain, or Sigonella, Sicily. “We are looking for a position south of the Alps to better place our center of mass for special operations,”? Jones told Stripes.
Â¶ Aviation Brigade — A “Multifunction Aviation Brigade”? will be created in the Ansbach/Illesheim area. It will include two Apache battalions, plus lift and aviation support units.
Â¶ Enabler Brigade — A new “combat enabler”? brigade will be created at GrafenwÃ¶hr, where new barracks and family housing units are now being built. The brigade will include artillery, engineer, MPs, signal and logistics units.
Â¶ Stryker Brigade — One of the new all-wheeled Stryker brigades will go to Vilseck, adjacent to GrafenwÃ¶hr, expected sometime around 2007.
Â¶ Eastern European Task Force — The new Army headquarters will be based in Eastern Europe, with brigade-sized rotational units from Europe and the United States going to new bare-bones “forward operating sites”? in Romania and Bulgaria. One of the Stryker brigade’s battalions will be the first to rotate to Eastern Europe shortly after it arrives in GrafenwÃ¶hr.
Â¶ Black Sea pre-position site — Jones told Stripes he hopes to establish an additional brigade-sized storehouse of gear and equipment on the Black Sea to augment existing sites in Italy and Norway, as well as beef up his flotilla of sea-based gear. “As we get out of the heavy divisions, we don’t want to get out of the heavy equipment so that we can rapidly transition to a bigger force if we need it,”? said Jones.
Â¶ Re-basing schedule — Plans call for 1st Infantry Division to return to the United States first, beginning in the summer of 2006, said Jones, followed by 1st Armored Division after it gets back from its upcoming deployment to Iraq. The merger of V Corps and USAREUR at Wiesbaden will be the last major movement. Jones emphasized, however, that the time line is subject to change as the war in Iraq, the BRAC process and competing funding priories all play out.
“The plan is on the table,”? Jones. “There are a lot of eager people out there waiting to do things, but we need decisions and we need resources.”?