“This is an investment into the future”

Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, Commanding General of US Army Europe, about his headquarters’ move to Wiesbaden.

October 2, 2011


By
Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung/Translated by U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs

Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung – George W. Bush initiated the project – Mark Hertling is to complete it. The former president of the United States is no longer in office and the USAREUR commander has been in office for only six months. But the 3-Star General is very well familiar with the complete plans. Having served in different positions in Europe and the United States, he contributed to the details of this large-scale reform.

Now, he concludes it. Under the impressions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and new strategic challenges, President Bush announced a comprehensive reorganization of the American troop presence in Europe in 2004.

Aside from an extensive withdrawal of combat troops – among them the First Armored Division – the plan entailed the closure of many installations and the relocation of the USAREUR headquarters from Heidelberg to Wiesbaden. Much of this has become reality by now. The American government is investing more than half a billion dollars in the Hessian capital alone. Several buildings, to include a new command and control center, are being built on the Erbenheim installation, old facilities are being renovated and entire new housing areas are being built new. The American “community” in Wiesbaden will grow to almost 20,000 people. By 2013, the move is to be completed and Lieutenant General Hertling to have moved into his new office.

Q: General, the Cold War is over but the American government is investing billions in the restructuring of its military facilities in Europe – among others in Wiesbaden. Why ?

A: Our entire national security strategy focuses around several things: prepare, prevent, deter and show presence. And that’s exactly what we do in Europe. You know, there are a number of European countries – and I visited some of them last week – that are of the opinion that the presence of the United States in Europe has a deterring effect and keeps certain people from doing stupid stuff. On the other hand, we give our partners, especially those who have been our partners for only a short time, the security that we are here for them.

Q: Merely by your presence?

A: No, of course not. Training plays a central role. That’s the preparation – not only for our own troops but also, if possible, for our allies. They learn from that and so do we. We work and train together with our partners here in Europe for joint missions and operations. And it is of great importance to do that before you meet on the battlefield. Aside from that, cooperation and joint exercises have contributed to NATO partners moving closer together. Countries like Poland or Hungary have modernized their armies tremendously in the last ten, fifteen years and those countries have become important allies.

Q: Is this the reason for US Army Europe advocating at the Pentagon to retain three instead of the proposed two combat brigades on European soil?

A: Three brigades are better than two in many aspects and not least in view of the training activities with our NATO partners. But don’t lose sight of the dimensions. The three brigades total only about 15,000 soldiers. We have additional 25,000 soldiers here who are necessary for the support, i.e. logistics, communication, intelligence, training and leadership.

Q: Three quarters of our European based units are in Germany and after the restructuring, which includes the move of the headquarters from Heidelberg to Wiesbaden, there will be three main hubs: training in Bavaria, logistics in Rheinland-Pfalz, and leadership in Hessen.

A: That’s putting it in very general terms but on the whole, it is correct. We have two combat brigades in Grafenwöhr, Vilseck and Hohenfels and in addition, a huge training area. We have support units in Kaiserslautern and Landstuhl and our large Army hospital adjacent to Ramstein Airbase and we will move into our new headquarters in Wiesbaden next year.

Q: Let’s look at another major garrison: why are you relocating your headquarters from Heidelberg to Wiesbaden?

A: There are several reasons. First, physical: In Wiesbaden, we have the possibility to construct a lot new and then to co-locate all kinds of units, such as intelligence and communication which were scattered over several installations so far, adjacent to an airfield. That means considerable cost savings. In addition, constructing new housing for the families of the soldiers would have become difficult. And finally, we can better protect our soldiers and facilities in Wiesbaden.

Q: Why?

A: In Heidelberg, our headquarters is located in a civilian suburb with a main street leading through our garrison. In Wiesbaden, the installation is in the Erbenheim fields, outside the city and even outside the suburb. That improves our safety and the safety of our neighbors.

Q: The core of the new headquarters will be the command center. What will be the function of this “Little Pentagon” as it is called already?

A: It is the place where all operations come together, intelligence and logistics, all vital units, important officers, our total know-how. Up to now, I have to cover great distances to talk to my most important commanders. I am constantly on the road. In Erbenheim, all units will be represented by liaison officers thus bringing together the entire staff in that command center; communication not just with me but amongst all will be much easier and more efficient. That is only one example I used to solicit support from Congress in Washington to view the restructuring in Europe as an investment into the future which, in the end, will help to save a lot of money.

Q: How much money?

A: That is hard to say. The command center in Erbenheim will cost around $50 million but I can close five US Army installations worth several hundred million dollars within the next three years. We can save several ten million dollars every year. I call that a good return on investment

Q: The “Little Pentagon” will have a “war room” from where you can fight a war.

A: Well, I wouldn’t call it that. The main building is a command center which will be manned 24/7. Our main focus will be lasting relationships with the European countries. Of course, as a military headquarters, we are equipped for military operations.

Q: Like the current bombardment of Libya by NATO for example.

A: That, of course, is not an Army operation but in principle, you are correct.

Q: There is fear in Wiesbaden that flight movements and consequently noise in Erbenheim will increase. A: There will be more flight movements. Probably a few more helicopter flights and possibly more take-offs and landings of smaller jets. There were flights from this airfield long before the Berlin Airlift and I believe that the Army has always been a pretty good neighbor and we want to keep it that way.

Q: The city, and Lord Mayor Helmut Müller in particular, have fought intensely to have the Army come to Wiesbaden.

A: Absolutely. Lord Mayor Müller is a good friend of mine and of the entire Army family. We will continue to build on that friendship with the city. That is good for the United States and Germany. And when you are happy about soldiers and families who will spend their money in the city, one has to accept the negative aspects of a garrison town.

Q: Do the recent saving attempts of the Pentagon have an influence on the moving plan? You are a prime example of these efforts: the position of commanding general of US Army Europe has been filled with a four star general up until now – you “only” have three.

A: Here in Europe, we focus on training, deployment and support of operations. We have the right size. The most important decisions have been made and most of the construction has begun. But there is definitely room for more efficiency to improve our effectiveness. And even if I “only” have three stars, I am proud of this organization and I think we represent the interests of the United States and our allies.

Q: When will you move into your office in Erbenheim?

A: As fast as possible. For sure during the course of the next two years but I cannot give an exact date. Furthermore, we need to find a name for the new command center and for the Erbenheim installation. Both are to be named after well known public characters who have contributed significantly to the security of the United States and Germany.

Q: Who qualifies for that?

A: Somebody connected to the Army and to Germany and maybe even Wiesbaden. But all that is till top secret. Questions were asked by Peter Badenhop.

Lt. General Mark Hertling commands about 40,000 soldiers. The 57 year old has been stationed in Germany several times. From 2007 to 2008, he commanded the then Wiesbaden based 1AD during a difficult Iraq mission.