Calling them home
George W Bush has announced the biggest shake-up in the US military since the Cold War including calling home a large chunk of the troops stationed in Germany. Ulf Mauder reports from one German town that is facing an uncertain future once the US troops start to leave.
President George W Bush's announcement of a partial withdrawal of US troops from Germany has thrown Baumholder, a small community in south-western Germany into disarray.
President Bush is pulling some US troops out of Germany
Most people in this American-dominated town in the tranquil Hunsrueck hill district near the Belgian and French borders cannot imagine a future without the US military presence.
"I simply can't believe that, after more than 50 years, it's all now going to be over," said Birgit Quick, a 20-year civilian employee with youth recreational facilities for military personnel dependents.
Some 5,500 personnel are assigned to the US Army's 1st Armoured Division at Baumholder. But along with their dependents, they account for 13,000 people in this town of just 18,000, says Mayor Peter Lang.
"If the base moves out, our community will just wither on the vine," he says. "Why some 500 to 600 civilian jobs are dependent on the base."
The American military presence has been the main economic factor in this town since World War II. Retail businesses, real estate agents, restaurants and hotels all depend on military personnel. *quote1*
Over the past 15 months, with many 1st Division troops deployed in Iraq, local merchants have suffered an economic downturn simply due to the fact that fewer GIs are here to spend money.
The base is said to be America's biggest concentration of battle-ready troops outside the United States.
"We simply cannot imagine life without the Americans," says hotel owner Annette Rech. Not only are they are bread and butter economically, but they are our friends and neighbours."
Looking around her small inn in the centre of town, she adds, "Without them this town would dry up and blow away. There's nothing else here: no industry, nothing."
Her hotel depends on overnight stays by visiting friends and relatives of military personnel.
"And lots of former personnel and their families come back to visit years after their stints here, just for old times' sake, to say hello to their old friends and show their grandkids where they used to live," she says.
Baumholder: facing an uncertain future
But the upkeep and improvements at the base are no guarantee that the base will be in Baumholder forever.
"We'll just have to wait and hear what word comes out of Washington," says base spokesman Bernd Mai - another German employee. "Meanwhile, it's business as usual."
That business as usual includes preparations for a big "welcome home" celebration on 10 September for troops returning from Iraq. It will be then that a plaque will be unveiled honouring 26 personnel who gave their lives in Iraq.
Mayor Lang meanwhile is hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. *quote2*
"We've known for years that the Pentagon has been considering serious redeployment of forces oversees," says 43-year-old Lang, himself a German military officer.
"We just kept hoping the decision would be delayed a bit longer. But now it seems the time has come and our worst fears may well become reality," he adds.
Down-sizing the base or closing it altogether will be traumatic for this town - as traumatic as a death in the family, says Quick.
"I'm German and my husband's American," she points out. "Our relationship reflects this town's relationship with the base. When the end comes, there's going to be a lot of tears and grief."
Subject: German news, US troop withdrawal, George W Bush