We don’t need you here anymore!...or do we??

The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine and he mentioned that he was stopped in a Stuttgart-area convenience store by a local who recognized him as a U.S. service member.  Surprisingly, the local said to him, “We don’t need you here anymore!”  Stunned by the apparent hostility, my friend didn’t know how to respond immediately. 

The incident got me thinking that it is important for us all to consider why we are here in Germany – and to have the response on the tip of our tongues!  I’ve previously discussed why I believe EUCOM is still relevant, but I focused more on the fact that although current conflicts are occurring outside of the European theater, our partner engagement in the theater greatly contributes to global security. 

As for why we are still physically here, it’s important to consider how our mission has changed since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War.  No longer is our presence connected to that period, where troops were stationed overseas as part of a strategy known as "forward deployment."  The thought used to be that if the Soviet Union invaded, EUCOM forces would already be located near the battlefield and would not need to be flown or shipped anywhere; but the Soviet invasion never came.  Therefore, it’s easy to see how some may feel that there is no benefit to still having U.S. forces stationed in Germany. 

Times have changed though, and the mission has changed as well.  The Atlantic Ocean is a huge barrier, and one reason why it’s important to maintain a strong presence in Europe is because from the other side of the pond (the U.S.), it is exceedingly difficult to maintain proper contact with our NATO and other partners.  Face-to-face is indeed the best method.  ADM Stavridis mentions NATO support in his most recent blog post, The Course for Afghanistan.  The bottom line is that it’s important to be in proximity to our many allies.  Within Special Operations Command Europe, frequent training with our partner forces is one of our key objectives, and we have become much more interoperable with them as a result of our forward presence.  From bilateral and multilateral training events to large scale SOF exercises like Jackal Stone, we have made great strides in the development of coalition special operations, which greatly contributes to the positive resolution to current global conflicts from Afghanistan to anti-piracy efforts to violent extremist threats world-wide.   

So, why are EUCOM forces still forward deployed?  Although the most complete answer is more complex, the short answer is that we, U.S. military forces, are in Europe so that we can cooperate better with our partners and allies.  Cooperation is essential during combined operations and in today’s world, it is critical for our forces to maintain close (read: face-to-face) ties to the many European forces with whom we will tackle our common global security challenges.

MAJ Jim Gregory

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Comments: 7

by Andrew Welch on December 28, 2009 :

Thank you for the insight from a German perspective -- I am one of those Americans back home keeping up with EUCOM through this blog, so it is great to better understand your thinking via discussions like this.

by MAJ Jim Gregory on December 28, 2009 :

B. Thompson -- I really appreciate the thoughtful comment and I agree that there is a lack of engagement between the majority of the U.S. forces stationed here in Germany and the general German citizenry, which arguably contributes to a lack of understanding. Interestingly, I had a very similar broken German/English (wir erlernen… langsam) discussion with one of my German neighbors on Christmas day when we had them over to our house for dinner. They believed that interaction decreased, at least locally in the Böblingen/Sindelfingen/Vaihingen area (where I currently live), when U.S. forces began moving onto the bases. Of course, that is their opinion, but I can understand that there may be a tendency for any like-cultured community to unintentionally segregate themselves from a surrounding community if a concerted effort is not made to stay integrated, especially when a language barrier exists. Cooperating better with our partners and allies most certainly includes communicating – and interacting – with those that we live amongst. Fortunately, concerted community engagement does exist in pockets. For example, U.S. Army in Europe sponsors a program called Kontakt that “gives US-personnel, Soldiers and civilians the opportunity to share their interests with Germans and citizens of other countries” (as per the website). Beyond that, I know that many of the Garrison Public Affairs Offices employ community relations experts who provide information to U.S. forces about activities going on in their surrounding communities. Ultimately though, it is up to the individuals to choose to interact. Perhaps we could all do a little bit better – but that’s always the case, isn’t it? 50-50 doesn’t work – everyone has to give 100%. I think it’s possible.

by Yank in Germany on December 11, 2009 :

Interestingly only AFRICOM and EUCOM are the only two COCOMs based outside of the United States. CENTCOM is fighting two wars based in TAMPA. Perhaps a withdrawal of the US presence would encourage our partners who spend less than 5% of their GDP on defense to step up to the plate and contribute more to their security rather than rely on the generosity that American taxpayers have provided for the last 61 years.

by Maj Shannon Mikus on December 10, 2009 :

Perhaps a more complete answer lies in the very nature of European politics? European security has always been based in cooperation. From that perspective, the US is just one more entity participating in the European security kabuki, and the most effective way to do that as a good partner is to be close, like a good neighbor. US forces are physically here so that our government can have a better chance of getting "it" right, rather than trying to run effective policy and partnership via telecon or through weekly meetings at embassies on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

by David Theriault on December 10, 2009 :

The reason US Forces are still positioned forward is quite obvious by the "Remebering what is important" blog right below yours.. My grandfathers fought WWII, one in the Pacific and the other in Europe, we didn't ask for two world wars in the same century. As we do our tours in Europe we must remember that we buried alot of our men and woman on European soil. If the cost of peace and tranquility in Western Europe is having US Forces on the ground, then that is a small price to pay. God Bless for what you and the men and women of SOCEUR do. DT RLTW

by B. Thompson on December 23, 2009 :

Jim, I am sure that most folks reading your blog here are Americans, so here is a German view on the comment made to your friend. Germans are not told why there is still such a large (yes, relatively) presentce of U.S. forces in Germany. The Brittish left, mostly, the French said good bye, some left over Canadians are found only on NATO installations.... yet the U.S. still holds on......... Why is that? No one tells the public much of anything that has to do with the military still stationed here, it is a mysterium to most and so questions are formed. No longer an occupational force, now considered guests in our country is what's being fed to all. So, that remark was maybe just a question, not a critique meant to offend. There is a definite use of our country to your mission. Being located as we are we make for a strategic morsle. But soon Romania, Hungary or another east block counrty will be build up enough to take over this role and all parties will be sad to go or see you go. Also, I'd like to say that Germans generally like you Yanks. I remember times when hostility was out in the open and Americans could not enjoy their time here. Times have changed, missions have changed, but sometimes it takes the older generation a bit longer to do adjust. As to the remark made by "Yank in Germany"......Thanks for all the funding you provided in the last 61 years , making my country what it is today. Just remember, please, we are the size of Oregon, and I believe Oregonians do not make up the amount of troops to match what the Bundeswehr currently sends out to supplement. As for the amount we spend on security etc., you are probably right that we fall short a few Euros there, however, we fund all the poilitical refugees that this ongoing "conflict" has brought to our country, rest assured we are doing our part, you just haven't looked close enough! Fröhliche Weihnachten.

by udtlearner on December 6, 2009 :

It hasn't changed from war lust though!More than one centric,side by side....

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