Pentagon plans to consolidate forces in Europe take shape

Troop levels would be cut from 62,000 to 24,000 in the next five to 10 years.

The Pentagon's plans for a major reduction and redeployment of U.S. Army forces in Europe are beginning to take shape, including an initiative to move the Army's European headquarters from Heidelberg to Wiesbaden and reduce troop levels from 62,000 to just 24,000 in the next five to 10 years.

Gen. B.B. Bell, the Army's top commander in Europe, told his command last week that two of the Army's headquarters in Heidelberg -- U.S. Army Europe and Task Force 5 -- will be merged and moved to Wiesbaden under the plan. In addition, Bell indicated that the Army's main operating areas will be reduced from 13 to four and that individual installations across Europe will decrease from 236 to 88.

In the Grafenwohr area, the Expeditionary Training Command will be joined by a Stryker Brigade and additional commands, according to Bell's announcement. Kaiserslautern will become a major service and sustainment hub where theater logistics and medical support are to be concentrated.

Bell also said the command is working with Italy to procure space to station the expanded 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, and that over time the Army's soldier population in the Vicenza area would increase by more than 1,000. In addition, the Army expects to begin moving the 1st Infantry Division from Germany to the United States as early as 2006, with the 1st Armored Division to follow two years later.

Bell indicated in his announcement that these troop moves had not yet been approved and are dependent upon the availability of domestic force structure capacity to receive them.

The Pentagon is in the throes of the first base realignment and closure process in a decade. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has suggested the 2005 BRAC round is expected to eliminate up to 25 percent of excess capacity in domestic bases.

The troop reductions and redeployments are part of the Pentagon's reorganization plan aimed at returning some units to the United States while leaving smaller units in Europe. The United States envisions fewer large, fixed bases like those operated in Germany since World War II, to a larger number of smaller, more efficient installations where troops can be quickly rotated in and out for training or crisis missions.

The Army is working to establish by 2008 a rotational force presence in Eastern Europe, with up to brigade-size rotations of different forces, including heavy, Stryker and airborne, according to Bell's announcement. A small, deployable command post similar to one in Vicenza will provide command and control of this force, he said.