US military's 'Gateway to Europe' closes Friday

28th September 2005, Comments 0 comments

28 September 2005, FRANKFURT - Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany, for decades the U.S. military's "Gateway to Europe", ceases operations on Friday, a U.S. Air Force spokesman said.

28 September 2005

FRANKFURT - Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany, for decades the U.S. military's "Gateway to Europe", ceases operations on Friday, a U.S. Air Force spokesman said.

The last regular military flight took off on Monday but a number of special flights will continue through the end of this week.

The storied base, near Frankfurt, played a key role in the Berlin Airlift in 1948-49 and has been the U.S. Air Force's main hub in Europe throughout the Cold War.

U.S. and German authorities signed an agreement in 1999 to close and return the base to Germany by the end of 2005. A formal closure ceremony is set for October 10.

The U.S. Air Force said it was shutting down the base because of operating costs, necessary infrastructure improvements, and the planned expansion of adjacent Frankfurt Airport - Germany's biggest commercial airport.

Rhein-Main's strategic U.S. airlift capability is being shifted to Ramstein and Spangdahlem air bases in the western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

The cost of the move, nearly USD 500 million, is being covered by the German government and NATO.

Matthew Summers, the public affairs spokesman at the base, said he would shed a tear when it was time to go.

"As members of the military, we're used to moving. But the history of this base...," his voice trailed off.

"It's the most significant air base in Europe. Nearly all the U.S. military personnel stationed in Germany have passed through Rhein- Main Air Base. We have touched more lives than any other air base in Europe," he said.

Rhein-Main's host unit, the 469th Air Base Group, supports more than 3,000 military, civilian, contractor and family members. The military personnel will be reassigned to other locations in Europe and around the world.

A German air base before U.S. forces occupied it in the waning days of World War II, Rhein-Main was the port of the dirigible Hindenburg, which exploded over New Jersey in 1937.

It was the main western base for the U.S. airlift to Berlin from June 1948 to September 1949, when the city was starving because of a Soviet blockade.

Situated about midway between the U.S. East Coast and Southwest Asia, Rhein-Main has been a major hub for U.S. forces and equipment headed to Iraq and Afghanistan. It has also delivered large amounts of humanitarian aid.

There are currently about 68,000 U.S. troops stationed in Germany which makes the country the main headquarters for a total of 102,000 American troops based in Europe.

DPA

Subject: German news

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