DOD, USAF Leaders Address Basing Concerns

U.S. European Command boss Gen. Tod D. Wolters issued a memo explaining the strategic rationale behind the Pentagon’s proposed posture shift within the European theater, and cautioned that any moves will take time to implement.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said July 29 the U.S. would move nearly 12,000 troops from Germany, shifting about half elsewhere in Europe and bringing home roughly 6,000. This includes ending the fighter mission at Spangdahlem Air Base and moving the base’s F-16s to Italy.

Wolters said the proposed changes align with the National Defense Strategy and advance DOD priorities, including:

  • Enhancing Russian deterrence
  • Strengthening NATO
  • Reassuring allies and partners
  • Improving U.S. strategic flexibility and the EUCOM commander’s operational flexibility.

“Optimizing our force posture will enable greater speed and clarity of our actions as well as promote comprehensive defense and shared response in alignment with NATO’s new military strategy,” Wolters wrote.

Under the new plan, the 352nd Special Operations Wing and the 100th Air Refueling Wing will now stay at RAF Mildenhall, U.K., despite a previously planned move to Spangdahlem. But the headquarters of several U.S. military organizations, which are located in Germany, may be forced to move, he wrote—and not just those based at Spangdahlem. 

“This proposal could impact multiple headquarters across the Stuttgart area, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, the 480th Fighter Squadron, elements of the 52nd Civil Engineering Squadron, 409th Contracting Support Brigade, an air defense artillery battalion, and an engineering battalion,” he wrote.

Air Mobility Command told Air Force Magazine on July 31 that there are no current plans to move the 726th Air Mobility Squadron off of Spangdahlem.

The mechanics of the strategic shift “will take time,” Wolters wrote, but service members and their families will be looped in as details—including time tables—“are finalized and approved.” Updates will be pushed down through the chain of command, according to the memo.

“Our families remain an essential priority in this endeavor and our team will ensure that maximum lead time for family planning is considered before the proposal matures to a final plan,” he wrote. “We are committed to keeping you and your family informed as we move forward.”

Also on July 31, U.S. Africa Command announced that preparations for its move out of Germany have begun.

The Stuttgart-based command will consider both European and stateside options, and possibilities will be evaluated “to ensure appropriate positioning of forces to deal with future challenges,” a command release said.

The process of determining the command’s new home is expected to “take several months,” AFRICOM Commander Army Gen. Stephen J. Townsend noted in the release.

Townsend also pledged the command’s support to Germany, its partners on the African continent, its personnel, and their families wouldn’t waver in the meantime.

In a video published to Spangdahlem’s Facebook page the same day, 52nd Fighter Wing Commander Col. David C. Epperson reiterated the absence of plans to shutter the base and underscored that the Air Force’s mission there is bigger than just the 480th Fighter Squadron’s role in it.

“We have a very important mission here, and not all [of] that mission is tied to the fighter squadron itself,” the said. “We will continue to build on those other mission sets, and we’ll continue to make sure that we maintain a robust presence here in the Eifel region for the time being,” he said. 

Epperson promised to keep service members and their families informed about the process so they can have the “stability and the comfort of knowing what is gonna happen” and begin planning their next steps. He also acknowledged the impact of the military’s proposed posture changes on the wing’s partnership with the region.

“In the meantime, I ask that you continue to build on the excellence that we have here at Saber Nation, and that we continue to partner with our friends and family both within the wing and in the Eifel region here as we deal with changes in the force posture in order to make sure that we are set here in the European Theater appropriately,” he said.

Pentagon Editor Brian W. Everstine contributed to this report.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on July 31 at 5:11 p.m. EDT with new information from Air Mobility Command.