FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kansas — Gen. Carter Ham, commanding general of U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army, spoke to Intermediate Level Education students about "U.S. Army Europe Today" Jan. 11 in the Lewis and Clark Center's Eisenhower Auditorium.
"There is one thing that sets us apart, I think, from other Army service-component commands, and that is in every operation in which we have participated over the past 60-plus years, we have done so with partners, allies and friends, sometimes in an alliance construct such as NATO, and sometimes in other bilateral or multinational coalitions," Ham said.
He said USAREUR has operated continuously since its activation in 1942, and at its height during the Cold War had about 213,000 assigned soldiers in more than 850 garrisons organized around 39 large communities. "It made sense to do that - we needed that large force because we were opposing a large force. As we contemplated, fortunately, the war that never was, we needed that capability resident on the other side of the ocean," Ham said.
He said the fall of Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union changed the strategic picture in Europe and led to a drawdown of U.S. forces stationed there and around the world.
"Immediately after Desert Shield and Desert Storm, we started to experience what some called the 'peace dividend,' that this was the last big fight that the U.S. Army would ever fight, so we could significantly reduce our forces, not just in Europe, but primarily in Europe, but across the globe we would reduce our forces, and people were happy about that, and we started to change our footprint in a very significant way," Ham said. USAREUR today has about 42,000 assigned soldiers centered around four brigade combat teams, and Ham said that number would shrink to about 32,000 soldiers in the next four years. The command's last division headquarters, the 1st Armored Division, will complete its move to Fort Bliss, Texas, next year, Ham said.
"We have the right force at the right place, we are an ocean closer to the current conflicts, and we are transforming our footprint from widely dispersed, which made sense in the Cold War, to more economic-sustainable, larger garrisons in a smaller number of communities," he said.
He said the USAREUR realignment would change the footprint, but not the commitment, of U.S. forces in Europe, and said the command is at the forefront of building partner capacity with European nations. Ham said 86 percent of the coalition partners in Afghanistan are from Europe, and at any time one-third of his forces are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. He said USAREUR also conducts about 30 multinational exercises per year. "First and foremost, our responsibility to train and prepare full-spectrum forces for global employment. This is something we take quite seriously," Ham said.
Ham is a 1990 graduate of the Naval College of Command and Staff where he studied with Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Gen. Raymond Odierno. He said officers at CGSC today examine difficult, but important, Army and social issues such as sexual assault and sexual abuse, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness and diversity in the ranks.
"As you get ready to go back to the force, how are you going to address these issues inside your units, inside your commands, inside your community? Some of them are not very pleasant," Ham said.