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