Soldiers with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Divsion, head for the end of a ruck competition in November. Members of 1st BCT will be tapped for a new NATO response force. (Sgt. John Couffer / Army)
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American soldiers can still get that coveted assignment in Europe, even as the U.S. shrinks its footprint overseas.
“I hope people are aware that there are a lot of opportunities for good officers and [noncommissioned officers] to serve in NATO assignments, to have a tour in Europe, and get that experience for themselves professionally and perhaps for their families,” said Lt. Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges, commanding general of NATO Allied Land Command. “I hope people will take a look around and seize those opportunities.”
Allied Land Command, based in Izmir, Turkey, is a new organization responsible for the effectiveness and interoperability of all NATO land forces.
Established Nov. 30, the command expects to have about 250 personnel by the fall, when it achieves initial operating capability. The goal is to have 350 personnel and achieve full operational capability by late 2014.
In addition to ensuring NATO’s land forces can train to standard and fight together, the command also must be deployable as a land component command if NATO embarks on a major joint operation, Hodges said.
Within the command, which is made up of troops from 23 NATO nations, there are 48 positions for U.S. troops, Hodges said.
Across NATO, there are about 2,000 positions for U.S. troops, Hodges said. About 800 of those billets are for soldiers, he said.
This includes billets at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Belgium; the two Joint Force Commands, one in the Netherlands and the other in Italy; Allied Land Command in Turkey; Allied Air Command in Germany; and Maritime Command Headquarters in the United Kingdom.
There also are U.S. troops assigned to NATO force structure units, including at seven of the nine European-led three-star corps headquarters. More than 200 U.S. soldiers serve in these land headquarters, said Col. Jeffrey Kulmayer, an American serving as the director of staff for the Rapid Reaction Corps-France.
The other two corps headquarters are “anxious” to add American soldiers to their rosters, Hodges said.
Hodges said he works closely with U.S. European Command and the Army to make sure these NATO billets are “as filled as possible.”
“A lot of officers don’t know about these opportunities,” Hodges said. “These are great professional, developing opportunities.”
The U.S. must continue to grow its relationship with NATO allies and partners, especially as the war in Afghanistan winds down, he said.
“We’re going to get significantly smaller, we’re going to have to reduce costs but remain capable,” he said. “More specifically, I am convinced that we will never do anything by ourselves again, whether it’s a NATO operation or some sort of coalition. Other countries have insights or legacies in all the places we might go. They’ll have a lot to offer that the U.S. cannot do by itself.”