March: The Big Move 55 Years Ago

Fifty-five years ago this month a new headquarters came to Stuttgart amid transformations across the European theater. Since 1950, Patch Barracks had been home to the American Seventh Army, which was the primary combat element of the U.S. Army Europe. All this changed in early 1967 when U.S. European Command moved from Paris, France, after Seventh Army had left in late 1966. The reasons for these moves lay within political and diplomatic changes taking place in the early 1960s.  

It was a time of tension within the Atlantic Alliance, as the U.S. and France were often at odds over leadership within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and America’s growing involvement in Vietnam, a former French colony. After several years of contentious dialogue, French President Charles de Gaulle eventually took drastic steps in April 1966 by pulling his country out of the Alliance’s integrated military command structure and demanding that NATO remove its troops from France by the end of March 1967. With less than twelve months to go, USEUCOM and its service components planned and executed a massive shift of numerous units and headquarters, comprising 70,000 military personnel and dependents and 813,000 tons of materiel. The ensuing operation was named FRELOC, short for “Fast Relocation.”     

The command was fortunate to have two very capable leaders at the time: Commander-in-Chief, Army General Lyman Lemnitzer; and Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Air Force General David Burchinal. Both had served in the Pentagon at the highest levels just prior to their respective assignments in Europe. General Lemnitzer was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1960-1962, and General Burchinal was Director of the Joint Staff from 1964-1966. In order to focus the right amount of attention on this challenging upheaval, Lemnitzer worked the NATO dimensions of the moves, while Burchinal handled the U.S. aspects. For both it was one of the most demanding episodes of their distinguished careers.

The challenge of dismantling infrastructure, moving it, and reestablishing it elsewhere required intensive work at all levels. At USEUCOM headquarters, Air Force Major General Elbert Helton, the Logistics Director (J4), and his staff had day-to-day responsibility for planning and coordinating FRELOC across the theater. The service components performed most of the physical work. Within months, U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) vacated five operational bases, four standby bases, and dozens of other sites. Most units moved to the United Kingdom, while the 26th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing squeezed into already crowded Ramstein Air Base. The USAFE move alone cost an estimated $1.4 billion in today’s dollars. The U.S. Army Communications Zone, Europe, the predecessor of the current 21st Theater Support Command, picked up and moved a vast network of storage depots and lines of communication, including 140,000 short tons of ammunition and 583,000 short tons of other materiel. Its own headquarters moved from Orleans, France, to Worms, Germany. When FRELOC concluded, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara called it “a move made with remarkable efficiency and at moderate cost.”

In addition to moving troops and associated materiel, the USEUCOM headquarters staff had to find a new home for itself. Belgium offered to host NATO and its Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), but there were limits on how much more the country could accommodate. Although USEUCOM had been stationed near SHAPE in the suburbs of Paris since 1954, that would no longer be the case. Deliberations during the summer of 1966 considered several potential sites for the headquarters, but concurrent developments in the Department of Defense (DoD) drove the final choice. Budget cuts and cost savings initiatives within the DoD during the early 1960s triggered several streamlining actions. One such proposal involved consolidating the Seventh Army staff with the USAREUR headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany. Seizing on the opportunity to align FRELOC objectives with this cost savings action, Secretary McNamara and other leaders soon decided that Patch Barracks would be the optimal site for USEUCOM’s new home. 

The period between the Seventh Army’s departure in December 1966 and USEUCOM’s arrival in March 1967 would be a very busy one. General Burchinal and the command staff were given a budget of $62 million for reestablishing the headquarters. They economized by using all available military air and ground transportation. USAFE’s 322d Air Division employed its C-130s and C-124s to quickly move 200 tons of files and office equipment. According to the command’s FRELOC after-action report, “In most cases, staff files were released in Paris one afternoon and were available for use by advance personnel in Stuttgart the next afternoon.” Another 820 tons went overland by military trucks and with commercial contractors. USEUCOM ceased operation following a farewell ceremony at Camp des Loges on 14 March 1967, and resumed “full normal activity” at Patch Barracks on 15 March with about 740 military and civilian personnel already in place.

The arrival of the new headquarters significantly changed garrison life at Patch Barracks and in the larger Stuttgart military community. Unlike Seventh Army, USEUCOM was a joint organization. In addition to   Generals Burchinal and Helton, the Intelligence (J2) and Plans (J5)   directors were Air Force generals; the Chief of Staff, along with the   Personnel (J1) and Operations (J3) directors were Army generals; and the Communications and Electronics (J6) director was a Navy rear admiral. Their staffs also mirrored the new joint environment with all four services represented. Thousands of new family members moved into 866 sets of quarters in six different housing areas. The Stuttgart Army Air Field received a $5.5 million upgrade, including more ramp space and a new hangar. Engineers determined that the power supply on Patch Barracks was inadequate and invested in upgrades. Under General Burchinal’s direction, the command also built a new three-story Command and Control (C2) Center to oversee theater-wide operations.

A later USEUCOM commander, Army General Andrew Goodpaster, called FRELOC “the largest single peacetime movement of men and materiel that the U.S. military had ever undertaken.” Reflecting on just how much had gone into the operation, General Burchinal reflected in his after-action report, “Many agencies contributed to the completion of the job; but, as with most tasks of this nature, it was the many thousands of hardworking people at the end of the line who earned for the command ‘a job well done’.” As it turned out, the headquarters had relocated not a moment too soon. During the initial months in its new home, USEUCOM confronted an unexpected war in the Middle East, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia the next year, and the growing strains of supporting military operations in another theater in Southeast Asia. The move to Patch Barracks definitely signaled a new era for the command and remains a major milestone in its history.

Mr. Bill Butler has served as the USEUCOM Command Historian since August 2019. He has over 25 years of experience as a Department of Defense historian.