REFORGER

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 water troops.

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.

5 thoughts on “REFORGER”

  1. I participated in the one in 1990. Deploying with 2AD from FT Hood. It was one of the last ones with actual troop movement. Even though our movement was severely restricted due to the new policies about not pissing off the locals. My unit set up its CP in the woods near a town in southern Germany. There was a sign at the entrance to the woods in German that we later found out said something like, “Beware of Rabid Foxes.” Nice to know.

    I got to 2AD in 1987 just after the biggest REFORGER ever where the entirety of III Corps deployed. 1CD, 2AD, 3rd ACR all deployed to Germany for the exercise.

  2. Being an Air Defense missile site ‘prisioner’ ,Improved HAWK system, I was ‘priviledged’ to participate in Reforger 77, 78, 79 and 80. During those exercises I was assigned to HQ VII Corps as an Air Defense advisor/umpire. Not bad duty really. I still hated Air Defense.

  3. Of the two REFORGERs I took part in, the first in 85 was boring as hell, because the excercise was scripted. This allowed the higher HQs and Loggies to do their jobs with real troops. Otherwise, for those of us in the field, we just sat around waiting for the Refs to tell us the results of a ‘battle’, and then move on from there. In 87, REFORGER was more interesting because it was not scripted (free maneuver), and therefore more realistic.

  4. My NG Armored BDE was slated to move to Germany in ’88. The Ops Sgt was talking with us in ’86 to see who would be willing to accompany the equipment on the ship. That was the year I had to quit OCS because of the long term effects of the injuries I’d suffered in ’83 and wasn’t in a very positive mood. I got out in ’87, but heard the movement was cancelled later.

  5. Did REFORGERs in 81, 82, 83 while stationed with 1 ID (F). 81 & 83 I was an umpire and 82 I was a player. It was excellent training for my weapons platoon since we had just got the M901 ITV and upgraded our fire control equipment for 81mm Mortars. The continuous movements allowed us to train in other than out normal training locations and maneuver in our GDP area. We were able to pick real world firing positions and figure out how we could take shots from which specific l and locations and see things like power lines and bodies of water we had to take into consideration for firing TOWs. It also allowed for a ton of mounted land nav training for everyone.

    One of the interesting things about the POMCUS sites is they were almost all located west of the Rhine River. That was partly to place them deep within the ADA belts and provide some standoff for units to upload and go through PCIs. It also allowed them to be far enough west and not become engaged prior to where and when USAREUR wanted them to be used.

    But that could be a problem because that also placed them on the wrong side of the river to fight and placed them at risk of being cut off if/when the Warsaw Pact dropped the bridges. The answer is the Army had several Civilian Labor Group Assault Float Bridge companies in the area. These units were composed of civilian employees in uniform and working for the US Army. Many of them were refugees or sons of refugees from Eastern Europe after World War 2 (anyone who went to Hohenfels in the 1970s and 1980s saw the “Polish” Smoke Generator Company….same kinds of folks). Each POMCUS site had 2 roads leaving the installation which were paved with concrete and within a kilometer of the river the paving switched to ginormous granite pavers. These materiels can handle the pressure and wear and tear from armor vehicles much better than macadam. The roads led to multiple prepared crossing sites along the Rhine.

    Each bridge site entrance and exit site had multiple concrete ramps leading into the river and huge steel bolyards to anchor the floating bridges. These guys were good and could get a bridge up and operating within 90 minutes. Also saw these same CLG units place bridges on unprepared sites along the Donau and many other rivers during many exercises.

    There were a LOT of these kind of units supporting NATO…entire ammunition battalions, truck companies, smoke generator units, supply units and guard forces. And they were intensely loyal to the US Army since we took them in when they were displaced persons and we treated them better than the Germans did. Many of them lived in barracks and you never passed up a chance to eat at on eof their mess halls!

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