Close Sembach - Again!

The U.S. Congress knows that our military continues its gradual withdrawal from Cold War bases in Europe. Most do not realize that a multi-billion dollar construction boom at American military bases in Europe continues under the guise of "consolidation." The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers posted details of their projects (warning: large PDF file) in Europe, Africa, and Israel. Citizens would be outraged at the billions of taxpayer dollars flowing to overseas construction firms for dubious national security purposes. 

American Army Generals have openly fought to keep "their" bases in Germany, and took advantage of transition confusion as the Obama Administration arrived in 2009. General John Craddock, the top Army General in Europe, began a public campaign to scrap the downsizing plan laid down by the Bush administration. He announced that redeployments from Germany would halt pending a review. Army Generals instructed their staffs to officially squash the Bush plan with recommendations in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review.

The Army wasted $140 million on new construction at Kelley Barracks, which was suppose to close. This year, it will spend $5 million to upgrade 17 mansions for Generals in the Stuttgart area. The Army's request for $1.4 million to improve the Clay House (pictured) was rejected by Congress. The Army may keep some facilities open in southern Germany that it promised to close. Army Generals joined forces with contractors, lobbyists, and German mayors to lobby Congress to keep these unneeded bases open. German mayors visited Washington DC to encourage our Congress to keep "their" bases open. None of these bases host combat units or training areas, they are administrative and support posts that remain long after combat units departed the area.

The Army says USAG Mannheim and USAG Heidelberg have closed as planned, but they actually combined and remain open under a new name USAG Baden-Wurttemberg. The Army claims this is just for "transformation", and this new garrison command will close in September 2014. That was the excuse given back in 2010, so civilian leaders must ensure that happens.

The boldest maneuver by Army Generals is to open a new base in Germany. As the U.S. Air Force closed its old airbase at Sembach, the U.S. Army quietly moved in and renamed it Kaserne Sembach. The airfield closed in 2005, but the Air Force still used the base apartments to house personnel from its nearby Ramstein airbase. In 2008, Sembach's old buildings were declared unfit for habitation and the Air Force announced the closure of that remaining part of Sembach airbase. 

The Army saw an opportunity to expand and rushed a military police company to the base to claim new property. Most of Sembach airbase had been turned into a German industrial park, and the remainder consists of old abandoned buildings. Army Generals declared some of the condemned barracks usable and moved in some soldiers. Detailed plans for this new base were uncovered by "Stars and Stripes" magazine in 2008. After more Army units move in, Generals can demand millions of dollars each year to rebuild the base, citing horrible conditions.

So while the Army complains that it lacks funds to operate, it chose to assume operations at closing Air Force activities at Sembach, to include: a commissary, post office, bowling center, fitness center, gas station, fire station, base exchange, an elementary and middle school (with plans for a new K-8 school in fiscal year 2016), a community bank, vehicle registration office, theater, community center, chapel, and sports fields. The Army has already spent millions of dollars in renovations. This spared hundreds of solid jobs for German citizens. Two happy German fireman (shown below) post a new Army sign atop the old Air Force sign in 2011 after U.S. Army Generals saved their base from closing.

The need for this new army base was never justified and was never part of the Army's long-term transformation plan. Congress was  never consulted or even informed about Army plans for a new base in Germany. The units now destine for Sembach were slated to move to the newly expanded Wiesbaden garrison, which should have plenty of room since V Corps headquarters with its 750 soldiers was recently disbanded.

Requesting funds for construction projects at Sembach is tricky because Congress must approve large projects in annual budgets, and Generals worry that Congressmen may ask about their new base. They managed to slip a $9 million project in the 2011 budget, but appear hesitant to request more due to recent Congressional interest in their free spending habits. Nevertheless, more Army units are moving into old Air Force buildings at Sembach. The Army may pretend that it needs Sembach for units at bases it plans to close, but the Army's long-term transformation plan never included Sembach. If the Army lacks facilities in Europe, it should move units to bases in the USA with vacant space. 

This chart from the U.S. Army Europe website is outdated. It shows V Corps headquarters and the 170th combat brigade, which were recently deactivated. The 172nd combat brigade will deactivate next year, but the Army has no plans to close down their bases. Most of the V Corps support structure remains in the form of deployable support brigades. These should be downsized to battalions or moved to the USA. In addition, there is no need to keep a large Army reserve command in Germany. Reserve units based overseas?

Congress should demand that Army Generals present a plan to downsize or remove former V Corps support elements in Germany, since they play no direct role in supporting NATO training. Generals should be told to end their base expansion plan by halting all renovations and cancelling all moves to Sembach and Baumholder, and to close those unneeded bases within one year.

                                           Carlton Meyer


Overseas Base Closure List

Sep 8, 2012 - Update

One reason I pursue my base closure list is that I've been informed senior folks in DC read it. I noted that Army Generals have stalled base closures in the Mannheim and Heidelberg region of Germany. This Sept. 7, 2012 article indicates that someone just lit a fire under U.S. Army Europe.

"HEIDELBERG, Germany — U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Württemberg and all its services will be closed next fall, a year sooner than most recently planned, officials said Friday."

That article proves that Army Generals were stonewalling. President Bush had ordered U.S. Army bases in the Mannheim and Heidelberg region closed six years ago, yet the Army has yet to move most of these support units. The best solution is to simply deactivate them.

Jan 2016 - Update from a Resident

As a current barracks resident of Sembach, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article about the need to close Sembach Kaserne.  Since the article was published, there have been several updates on this base - not in a good way.

Firstly, the commissary is currently scheduled to be closed in March of this year.  The bowling alley was closed last year, and the base exchange you mention is more of a “shoppette” that provides nothing other than snacks, alcohol, and a few toiletry items.  Inside of the shoppette is a barber shop, TKS cable and phone shop, and a recently added military car salesman.  To whom this man is selling cars, we are all stumped.  The sports fields have become overgrown with only the larger soccer field remaining as a means to host Army change of command ceremonies, and in no way is used by the elementary or middle schools on post.  All of the housing on the back part of the base has been torn down with no plans to build anything else on the property.  The fitness center, gas station, Community Bank, Service Credit Union, and post office remain.

The Sembach Community Activities Center will soon be turned over to the Army from the Navy.  It is Navy funding that has helped produce a somewhat functional activity center for those of us living on this subpar post.  For residents, we have no dining options on post.  There is a small restaurant located inside of the Community Activities Center, but with meals costing almost 10 euro per plate, we are not provided with enough money to eat here on a constant basis.  The commissary and shoppette are the only source of food we have, and there seems to be no long-term solution for providing the residents on post with a dining option.  The next closest commissary is on Vogelweh Kaserne, approximately 20 minutes away.

New additions to the base include the AFN headquarters, a small coffee shop, AAFES headquarter, and a prison.  In my two years living on Sembach, I have watched nearly every building on base get a renovation or some form of remodeling…except the barracks, which are just the renovated Air Force Inns.  My building is lucky because we have a kitchen on every floor.  The neighboring buildings only have one kitchen on the first floor for all the residents.  Again, the Army has no interest in updating these facilities or providing a better dining situation on base.

With the Army boasting that it now has 30,000 troops doing the work of 300,000, it’s absolutely time to cut the unnecessary bases and condense so money can be spent on more important things.  

Please let me know if you have any questions.  If people from Congress truly are reading your website and listening to your advice about base closures, I want them to be aware of what’s actually happening on Sembach.