Two German Air force units that have called Ft. Bliss home for decades are scheduled to leave this West Texas Army base as part of a reorganization of the German military.
Col. Heinz-Josef Ferkinghoff said the German Air Force Command for the U.S. and Canada will close at Fort Bliss on Sept. 30. Operations will be moved to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, where Germany already has a flight training center. Meanwhile, the German Air Defense Center where officers receive training in the use of Patriot missiles will return to Germany within five years.
The El Paso Times reported Monday that the moves affecting several hundred German military personnel and civilian employees come after U.S. base realignment changed some Fort Bliss operations.
The U.S. Army's Air Defense Artillery School moved to Fort Sill, Okla., in 2009 and the 1st Armored Division returned from Germany to Fort Bliss in 2011.
Since 2005, Fort Bliss' soldier population exploded from 9,000 to 33,000, changing the decades-long tradition of Ft. Bliss being primarily an air-defense installation.
"That's where we lost the connection," Ferkinghoff said.
And while Ft. Bliss will see less of a German presence, the Luftwaffe plans to expand their operations in Holloman Air Force base in Alamogordo, New Mexico. They currently have about 500 airmen and civilians training there and plan to increase the number to 800 in the future.
A small number of officers from the Air Defense program will transfer from Ft. Bliss to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma to serve as liaisons between the two armed forces.
The German Air Force has had a presence at Fort Bliss since 1956 and its personnel have been deeply involved in El Paso's community. The German Air Force has two charitable foundations in the area that have helped the region for decades.
The Germans also have organized an Oktoberfest celebration in Ft. Bliss and expect to organize their final one in the fall.