Which army travels overseas the most?

Briefly explained: US soldiers in Germany

After the Second World War, large contingents of the US armed forces remained in Germany. To this day, the country is an important part of the US defense strategy in Europe. Although the number of soldiers has declined since then, the American military has remained very present over the decades. American communities have significantly shaped the life of some German cities and villages.

"European Command" in Stuttgart

The great strategic importance of Germany is expressed, for example, in the "European Command" in Stuttgart in the south-west of the country, from where the USA coordinates its troops in around 51 countries, mainly in Europe. The task: protect and defend the US by supporting partners within NATO and by countering transnational threats.

The US Army in Europe, the Air Force and the American Marine Corps are under this command; they all maintain facilities in Germany. In fact, most of the US troops in Europe are in Germany, although the exact number varies as contingents are always relocated to other countries. Nowhere else than in Japan has the United States stationed so many soldiers.

Number of US soldiers halved since 2006

According to the German government, the number of American soldiers more than halved between 2006 and 2018, from 72,400 to 33,250. Because the US has long since responded to the changing and increasingly complex global situation. In Germany, however, five of the seven US garrisons are still stationed - the other two are in Belgium and Italy. And the headquarters of the US Army in Europe is also in Germany, in Wiesbaden, a city near Frankfurt am Main.

End of 2018: US President Donald Trump with US soldiers during a stopover at the US Air Force base in Ramstein

Figures made available to DW by the US military show that these five garrisons, all of which are spread across multiple locations, have a staff of around 29,000. This also includes the "Marine Corps Forces" for Europe and Africa, whose headquarters are in Böblingen in Baden-Württemberg. This facility is also part of the garrison in Stuttgart. In addition, there are around 9,500 air force soldiers who are spread across the country in barracks. These include the well-known bases in Ramstein and Spangdahlem in Rhineland-Palatinate.

Grafenwoehr: Largest base outside the USA

American facilities also employ numerous civilians. The service staff often bring their overseas families with them, and so large American communities have formed around the bases. Some of these institutions, for example in Ramstein, even form small towns. There you will not only find accommodation, airports or material depots, but also your own shops, schools, post offices and police stations. Often only the US dollar is accepted as currency there. The Bavarian US garrison in Grafenwoehr, very close to the border with the Czech Republic, is the largest US base outside the USA, both in terms of area and in terms of the number of employees.

The bases also employ many people from Germany and have ensured an economic upswing in the surrounding communities over the years. When facilities were closed in the past, for example in Bamberg in 2014, it had a severe impact on the economy. Many Germans who live near American facilities are expressing their protest against possible troop reductions.

US nuclear weapons in German barracks

But the importance of the American presence in Germany is not limited to the employees alone. The US also has aircraft at non-military airports. Furthermore, around 20 American nuclear weapons are still suspected in Germany, namely at the German base in Büchel, which repeatedly provokes violent protests in Germany itself.

Drone commands from Ramstein

It is also highly controversial that the air base in Ramstein is used as a control station for drone attacks, for example in Yemen, but also elsewhere.

The US presence in Germany is a legacy of the Allied occupation of the country from 1945 to 1955 as a result of World War II. At that time, millions of American, French, British and Soviet soldiers were stationed here. The northeastern part of the country, under Soviet control, became the "German Democratic Republic" (GDR) in 1949. In the West, after the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, the occupation statute remained in force, allowing the USA, France and Great Britain to station soldiers in Germany and to monitor disarmament and demilitarization.

Soldiers of the US garrison in Grafenwoehr during shooting training

After the official end of the occupation, the Germans took their defense policy into their own hands again. The occupation statute was replaced by an agreement within NATO, which was signed by the Federal Republic in 1954. It allowed eight NATO member states, including the USA, a permanent military presence in Germany. This treaty still determines what exactly NATO troops are allowed to do in Germany and what not.

Reduction since reunification

The number of military personnel fell sharply, especially after reunification in 1990. According to the government, there were around 400,000 foreign soldiers in Germany at the time, almost half from the United States. But as a result of the tensions with the dissolving Soviet Union and other conflicts such as the first Iraq war in the early 1990s, more and more Americans were withdrawn from Germany.