Editorial: Germany draws down area forces

Farmington Daily Times
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The 60-year presence of German military forces in the Southwest may be drawing to a close, a victim of shifting budget realities and national priorities.

The relationship has been a boon for Germany as well as El Paso and Alamogordo, cities that have benefited from the presence of German forces at Fort Bliss and Holloman Air Force Base.

The German defense ministry announced last week that it was ending a contract to train German pilots in Tornado fighter aircraft at Holloman Air Force Base. The last German forces are expected to leave Holloman in 2019, ending a 27-year training mission at the New Mexico base.

The Luftwaffe has had airmen at Fort Bliss since 1956, little more than a decade after the end of World War II and in the midst of a deepening Cold War with the Soviet Union.

The German air force for years housed its North American command at Fort Bliss, but closed that command in 2013. The Germans continue to maintain their air defense center at Fort Bliss and will continue that presence until 2020, but the longer-term future is uncertain.

The end of the German training mission at Holloman will be a big blow economically to the Alamogordo region. About 450 German military personnel and families are based at Holloman, which houses the largest school for German children outside their home country.

New Mexico business and political leaders had lobbied the Germans to keep their Holloman presence. But that nation, like the United States, is reshaping its military to meet current budgetary realities and geopolitical missions.

“The main reason why the (German air force) is terminating their training here is due to a reduced Tornado fleet that is operating in the German air force,” said Col. Heinz-Josef Ferkinghoff, the German commander at Holloman who previously was based at Fort Bliss. “We have two bases in Germany and the flying training center here at Holloman. We have to consolidate our Tornado operation in those two locations.

“There’s a certain logistical challenge to operate a fast jet like the Tornado in a foreign country as far as bringing all the spare parts to maintain the technical high level we try to achieve with our aircraft. Sometimes we wait weeks for spare parts, but in Germany they’re more or less immediately available,” Ferkinghoff told the Alamogordo Daily News.

The German military presence at Fort Bliss and Holloman has enriched the culture of our region. The airmen and their families have been vital parts of our communities for decades.

Many German airmen have chosen to make the U.S. Southwest their home after retiring from the military, and continue to contribute to our region.

The U.S.-German alliance is one of the most important partnerships in the world. And global developments could cause Germany to change its plans for future military presence in the United States.

If not, our region says danke schön to the tens of thousands of German airmen and families who have been our neighbors over the decades.

This editorial was written by the El Paso Times.