On Thursday, President Barack Obama outlined a new U.S. defense strategy, one aimed at making the military leaner and to help it adapt to the military challenges of the 21st century. Along with prioritizing the Middle East and shifting a new strategic emphasis to East Asia, the strategy calls for a significant reduction in troop levels in Europe, specifically Germany.
Reports have cited that Obama plans to cut in half the amount of Army combat brigades in Germany, with more specific announcements planned for February when Obama submits his annual defense budget request. Though currently only focusing on Army units, the cuts — especially in a political environment intent on finding cost-saving measures in the military — could go deeper, extending to other military organs in the region, including the Air Force.
Once a major American military hub with bases dotting the country, Germany has seen the U.S. presence within its borders dwindle since the end of the Cold War. But the president should be wary of making significant force cuts in Germany. Though he is rightly cutting the fat off of a bloated military, Obama’s targeting of the bases in Germany, which house 52,440, soldiers could be strategically flawed. The major U.S. communications, medical, and Air Force facilities located in the country are critical for the U.S. to exert influence in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and should be maintained.
Ramstein Air Base – a massive Air Force command hub – and surrounding military facilities like Landstuhl Medical Center are particularly necessary. During the Iraq War, Ramstein served as a way-station between the Middle East and America. An Air Force “truck stop” of sorts, Ramstein was necessary in allowing U.S. cargo, transport, and combat aircrafts to stop and refuel or even stage missions into the Middle East and Africa. The range between the U.S. and Iraq made bombing sorties and medical evacuations between the two countries nearly impossible.
The Ramstein-Landstuhl connection especially was crucial in saving the lives of countless injured American troops. A soldier severely injured in a roadside bomb, let’s say, and who would need major surgery, would be flown within 24 hours to Ramstein (Iraq lacked major medical facilities and the hospitals in the U.S. were too far), and then transported to Landstuhl where top surgeons would treat them. Since the start of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Landstuhl has treated over 13,000 combat wounds, and boasts a 99.5% survival rate for its trauma patients. The hospital has also treated soldiers from 49 NATO coalition nations. If the Obama administration were to cut this vital military resource, the life expectancy of soldiers in the field would undoubtedly fall.
From a purely military standpoint, Ramstein is a necessary home base for combat missions. A staging ground for missions as recently as the Libya intervention in 2011, Ramstein helps the military cleanly execute their air objectives. Moreover, safely tucked inside the friendly borders of Germany, U.S. aircraft don’t have to worry about threats during take-off or landing.
Military downsizing is always the norm after any war, and in today’s environment of deep government cutbacks, the military is facing some of the biggest cutes in modern history. Policy makers, though, should maintain awareness of the strategic importance of the units, technology, and infrastructure they seek to cut. Despite being seen as a Cold War relic, the bases in Germany – particularly Landstuhl and Ramstein – should be given a high value for the services and strategic abilities they provide the U.S. military.
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