Army to take charge of Sembach Annex

By Jennifer H. Svan, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Tuesday, January 26, 2010

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The Army will take control of Sembach Annex from the Air Force by the end of the fiscal year, ending months of rumors and speculation on the future of the base east of Kaiserslautern.

Plans for the annex have been circulating for more than a year after Stars and Stripes first reported on an Army brief laying out several scenarios for “reutilizing” the 279-acre base.

The official authorization came down earlier this month from the assistant secretary of the Army for installations and environment, according to an Installation Management Command-Europe news release Monday. The decision wasn’t announced sooner because military officials needed time to devise a plan and schedule for notifying German officials, command spokesman Ken White said.

Pending, White said, are decisions on what Army units will relocate to Sembach and what Army installations might close as a result.

Also uncertain is how many active-duty and civilian Army personnel might transfer to Sembach, White said. The base has the capacity for about 1,500 personnel.

“The only plan we have now is to work with the Air Force to facilitate the transfer by no later than October 1, 2010,” White said Monday.

By then, the Army must be running base operations, from force protection to facility maintenance, he said.

Senior Master Sgt. Joe Davis, U.S. Air Forces in Europe spokesman, said USAFE is working with the Army on the transfer details.

In the meantime, several Air Force units will continue to work from Sembach through the transfer, with plans to move next year. The 47-member USAFE band will leave Sembach in summer 2011 for Vogelweh, and the 200-member 21st Operational Weather Squadron will leave December 2011 and relocate to Kapaun Air Station, Davis said.

Ninety personnel with the 435th Security Forces Squadron at Sembach will move to Ramstein Air Base, he added, at a date to be determined.

The Army has considered a variety of uses for the base, including as headquarters for Europe Regional Medical Command or the 21st Theater Sustainment Command; becoming the new home to units such as American Forces Network-Europe, Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe or the Army and Air Force Exchange Service-Europe, according to a planning document obtained by Stars and Stripes in September 2008.

But White cautioned Monday that nothing has been officially decided.

“Don’t take that to the bank, because that’s all preliminary, unapproved stuff,” White said. “No final decisions have been made on organizations and units.”

Once units are moved to the base, Army leaders can “continue to reduce the number of installations that we’re on,” he said.

The base, which will retain the name “Sembach,” is likely to become a subordinate site to an existing garrison, White said.

The Army plans to maintain the few major tenant units still operating on the base, including the Defense Commissary Agency, an Army and Air Force Exchange Service shoppette and gas station and two Defense Department schools.

DODDS-Europe spokeswoman Maggie Menzies said Monday that with the announcement, DODDS-Europe will review its plans for the Sembach elementary and middle schools.

“We will reassess if the Sembach schools need to remain in the Sembach area or if they will join the Kaiserslautern complex at Vogelweh,” Menzies said.

The only Army presence currently on Sembach is more than 100 members of the 230th Military Police Company from Rhine Ordnance Barracks in Kaiserslautern. Part of the company relocated to a barracks in Sembach because the dormitory there was in better condition, White said.

Taking over Sembach is expected to save the Army about $4 million in operating costs and allow the Army to consolidate its footprint in Germany, among other projected savings, according to the Army release.