GRAFENWOEHR, Germany —
It is ironic that the final stop in the Chairman’s 2016 USO Holiday Tour is at this major training base in the heart of Bavaria.
A decade ago, there were those who believed the need for this base and its multinational training area -- the largest in Europe -- was past. Now, it is one of the linchpins of the European Reassurance Initiative -- the effort to reassure and bolster the security and capacity of America’s NATO allies.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford and his senior enlisted advisor, Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, chose Grafenwoehr as one of the stops on the USO Tour this year because they wanted to go to bases that are doing important work and “are kind of hard to get to.”
Graf -- as it is affectionately called by service members -- fits that bill. The base has taken on added importance as the United States, its NATO allies and its partners confront a resurgent Russia. It fits in the same mold as the previous stops on the tour.
The Mission Continues
The first stop for the tour, which included actors Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans, NBA legend Ray Allen, Olympic gold medalist Maya DiRado, country music star Craig Campbell and mentalist Jim Karol, was Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.
The airmen and soldiers at the base helped evacuate their families in February and weathered an attempted coup in Ankara that closed the base in July, but still they continue to launch air missions to Iraq and Syria that are pounding the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The next stop was Qatar, where permanent party and rotational service members plan and launch strikes against ISIL, and whose mere presence deters Iran.
Then it was on to Afghanistan, where the troupe visited soldiers at Forward Operating Base Gamberi and Bagram Airfield who are supporting Afghan forces in their fight for their country.
And finally, Graf.
“I don’t think there is a busier group of soldiers in the United States Army than the ones that are right here in the general area,” Dunford told troops at the base. “We have an appreciation for the exercise tempo and the training tempo. But from where I sit, I also have appreciation for the impact you are having on how our allies feel about U.S. commitment.”
Tangible Proof of Commitment to Europe
The chairman said he often points to the service members based in and around Graf as tangible signs of America’s dedication to the NATO alliance and its partners in the region.
“If anyone wants to talk about deterring and challenging the threats here in Europe, the greatest way to do that is by showing strength,” he said. “And the strength that we show in Germany to our partners and allies and our potential adversaries are you, doing what you are doing.”
The service members are helping build capabilities at the Grafenwoehr training areas and exporting it to countries like Ukraine, Dunford said. “When they watch your exercises and they see what you do across Europe on a day-to-day basis, I guarantee it makes a difference both in assurance and deterrence,” the general said.
Troxell told the service members and their families that he understands the work requires a lot of time away from home, but it is making a difference. “It’s having a huge impact assuring our allies and deterring any kind of strategic threats,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the USO troupe visited with members of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment who are training to deploy to Eastern Europe. They saw the troopers at Graf’s Gunfighter Range and at the Reconfigurable Vehicle Tactical Trainer. They then fired M240 machine guns, rode Stryker vehicles and looked at the various pieces of equipment the cavalry soldiers use.
The USO troupe is proof positive that “folks back home are thinking of you, particularly at this time of year,” Dunford said. “Folks back home appreciate what you are doing.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)