USAFE commander honors German military

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Chuck Roberts
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs
By standing their ground for more than three years as sentinels of U.S. Air Forces in Europe installations, departing German servicemembers have not only kept Airmen and their families safe, but also enabled their American counterparts to more effectively engage in the war on terrorism.

"Dear soldiers of the German armed forces, the time of farewell has come," said Gen. William T. Hobbins, U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander, before an array of uniforms.

The joint and combined military audience turned out for the Sept. 28 ceremony honoring the Sept. 27 departure of German soldiers, sailors and airmen who assumed entry control and vehicle search operations at USAFE bases.

"Thank you for helping us ensure freedom's future. We say goodbye with our sincerest gratitude," General Hobbins said, expressing his thanks in both German and English.

What at first seemed an oddity to Americans eventually became a routine and pleasant occurrence when polite and friendly German servicemembers greeted Americans, providing respectful salutes even to their enlisted counterparts.

The overall effect of their presence is hard to illustrate, General Hobbins said, but the numbers paint an impressive picture:

-- 14,500 German servicemembers fulfilled guard assignments at Ramstein AB.

-- In April 2003, 4,130 Germans guarded 66 U.S. military installations in Germany. 

-- In February 2004, 1,967 Germans guarded 40 U.S. military installations. 

-- On Feb. 1, 2005, 615 German servicemembers were still on guard at 11 installations, including Ramstein, Sembach and Spangdahlem ABs.
-- Since July, Ramstein AB was the last air base to receive support.

Their services equated to more than 2 million work days at U.S. installations, which General Hobbins described as a "truly staggering number, and it allowed us to focus our forces on fighting the global war on terrorism.

"USAFE-wide, it freed up approximately 3,000 security forces personnel per year to participate in deployment rotations in the global war on terrorism," General Hobbins said. "But in reality, the impact was felt across each USAFE installation and each specialty craft. If it wasn't for the Bundeswehr, other craftsmen like civil engineers and logisticians would have been pulled from their primary specialty where their expertise was severely needed."

And doing so had direct implications in countries such as Afghanistan, where General Hobbins cited the positive effects of U.S. forces, allied nations and coalition partners that include Germany. Those effects include more than 3 million kilometers of roads built by provincial reconstruction teams, about 80 percent of Afghanistan citizens who now receive healthcare, and more than 6 million children who are back in school, of which 2 million are girls.

Such accomplishments were also noted with pride by German Army Maj. Gen. Bernd Diepenhorst during the ceremony.

"After the terrible events of 9/11, the United States of America decided to fight the global terrorists," General Diepenhorst said. "To keep our American friends and partners free for this fight and enable them to concentrate their efforts to ensure peace and stability, we started Project Force Protection."

In addition, the combined effort only helped solidify an already strong bond between the two countries, the general said. Through their continued daily contacts with the U.S. military communities, General Diepenhorst said his servicemembers further recognized the common objectives and values, and a conviction for freedom shared the two nations. 

"I know what I've done," said German Staff Sgt. Eik Rosenkranz after the ceremony, "and I think it was very necessary and it allowed the Airmen to do the things they did in Afghanistan. It was necessary and right. They made life better for the people in Afghanistan." 

(Contributing to this story: Nate Cairney, Kaiserslautern American)