The Pentagon announced with its FY12 budget request that only one, not two brigade combat teams (BCT), would leave Europe in 2015. This move is just the newest chapter chronicling the eroding saga of reducing our troop presence in Europe.
In 2004, Secretary Rumsfeld spearheaded a plan to withdraw most of the US’s ground troops from Europe. At the time, the Army had five brigades stationed on the continent: two from the 1st Infantry Division, two from the 1st Armored Division , and the 173rd Airborne. The plan called for “the return of the two heavy divisions” and the insertion of a Stryker Brigade, to bring the number of maneuver units to only two brigades in Europe and reduce the number of troops in Europe from 63,000 to 24,000.
But, Rumsfeld’s plan never matched reality. While the number of the troops did decrease, his goal of shrinking maneuver force structure was never realized. In 2006, one of the heavy brigades deactivated to make room for the 2nd Stryker Calvary Regiment (SCR). And a host of other troop movements of other supporting and headquarters units—including both divisional headquarters—led to the closing of numerous installations and a decrease of 18,000 troops from Europe over a three year period.
But in 2007, Secretary Gates froze troop reductions in Europe, citing uncertainty of ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and commitments to European allies. One heavy brigade finished relocating from Europe to Ft. Bliss in 2008, but four of the five original brigades were still in place. As part of the Army’s modularity transformation, two of the remaining brigades were later reflagged as separate brigades to emphasize they no longer had division headquarters in Europe.
Still, up until this budget request, two of the brigades were still supposed to go—some time. But with the FY12 announcement that only one brigade will leave—and not until FY15, we’ve taken yet another step to keeping significant force structure in Europe.