When I mentioned REFORGER in the last post, Roamy asked for a touch more information.
As the size of US troop levels in Vietnam increased, the Army was stretched thin. Even with the draft, there were caps on the total manpower of the Army. And those caps meant there were only so many divisions that could be constituted. As a result, in 1968, President Johnson decided to withdraw two divisions from West German.
Rather than give the impression that we were cravenly abandoning the Europeans to the tender mercies of the vast Soviet Army (and remember, 1968 saw Czechoslovakia brutally repressed by the Soviets), the Army instituted a series of annual exercises that would showcase our ability to rapidly return one or more divisions to Germany. Hence the name of the exercise, Redeployment (or Return) of Forces to Germany. Starting in 1969, and through 1993*, every year the Army staged REFORGER, with a minimum of one division being deployed.
While REFORGER may have initially had primarily a political message, it later came to form a key part of the US war plan in the event of any Soviet invasion of Western Europe. But moving heavy divisions from the US to Germany ain’t easy. With about 18,000 troops, and roughly 10,000 pieces of rolling stock, it takes a huge amount of shipping to move just one division. And the plan for Europe eventually included up to five heavy divisions redeploying to Europe.
Now, the Army had a firm cap on numbers of troops. Troops are expensive. Ironically, while the Army was orignally aghast at the roughly $4 million dollar price tag for the M1 tank, it turns out, tanks are a lot cheaper than people. Once you pay the upfront costs, if you just park it, it doesn’t cost you anything going forward.
So the Army bought extra tanks. And armored personnel carriers. And trucks. And pretty much everything else a division would need. Through a program known as POMCUS, or” Prepositioning Of Material Configured in Unit Sets” an entire brigade or even division’s worth of every bit of equipment would be stored, just waiting for people. Kinda like a freeze dried division, just add
Troops from stateside units, such as those of III Corps, would fly to Germany, fall in on their equipment, and be almost instantly ready to roll out the gates and fight.
Because the troops only needed to carry their personal baggage, there was no need to lift them on scarce Air Force transports. Instead, the US could activate the Civilian Reserve Air Fleet, basically commandeering the US airline industry to fly troops for us.
The equipment sets of the divisions that deployed could be used to bring follow on National Guard divisions and brigades up to strength, constitute new units, or serve as replacement war stocks. As soon as possible, shipping would move those tanks, trucks and trailers to Europe.
While REFORGER was arguably the Army’s capstone exercise through the 70s and 80s, I never actually took part in it. The one time I was actually present in Germany for one, my division took part, but my particular brigade didn’t really do anything. I do recall that my room mate got tapped to drive a Humvee for an exercise referee.
I did, however, happened to run into some troops from the 10th ID who had deployed for the exercise. Not sure what good a light infantry brigade would do against a Soviet Motorized Rifle Regiment, but there they were. What really impressed me, though, was their radio. We were still using the VRC-46/PRC-77 Vietnam era radios that had an effective range of “a piece of string between two cans.” They had a satellite radio in a backpack configuration that weighed less than the PRC-77. In about 2 minutes, they set it up, called home to Ft. Drum, New York, and got an update on things at home. In an era before cell phones, I was suitably impressed.
*Except 1989. With the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of East Germany, the decision was made to not hold the exercise.