STUTTGART, Germany -- U.S. Army Europe is pulling larger numbers of National Guard and Army Reserve forces across the Atlantic to carry out a mission that the active force is too stretched to accomplish alone.
More than 10,000 National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers will cycle through Europe in the year ahead, nearly double the number last year.
With skills honed in the private sector, that "brings in a higher level of expertise," said Col. Charles Crosby, chief of mobilizations and reserve affairs at USAREUR headquarters in Wiesbaden.
As USAREUR presses forward with a more robust presence across eastern Europe -- a posture sparked by concerns over a more aggressive Russia -- building up training centers in that region will be of added importance, Crosby said.
"They (Guard and Reserve forces) have engineers who do those functions in civilian life," he said.
Among recent tasks carried out by Guard troops have been major base improvement projects at the Novo Selo training area in Bulgaria, which serves as a hub for the growing U.S. rotational presence, and Cincu Training Area in Romania, where roads, range facilities and support buildings have been constructed with local forces. Similar base improvement efforts could soon be on tap in other parts of Europe to meet increased training demands, Crosby said.
"We're looking to expand that in 2017 with more of our partner countries," he said.
For USAREUR, which after years of troop cutbacks has just 30,000 soldiers stationed in Europe, Guard, Reserve and active-duty rotational forces from the States have become indispensable as the Army carries out an expanded mission set that involves a persistent presence on Russia's periphery.
While Reserve component forces have long been a fixture in training missions across Europe and served as a key part of European command's overarching strategy in the region, deployment numbers have spiked since Russia's intervention in Ukraine in March 2014.
That year, about 5,000 Army Guard and Reserve soldiers deployed to Europe for rotational missions. In 2015, that number grew to 6,330 and will rise to more than 10,000 this year, Crosby said.
Without such support, the current, more intense pace of USAREUR operations would be unsustainable, top Army commanders in Europe have said.
For now, funding for rotations is aided by the European Reassurance Initiative, a $1 billion annual program that has enabled the Pentagon to bolster its activities across the Continent, with a special focus on eastern Europe. However, that program is funded through overseas contingency funds and must be approved by Congress on an annual basis.
Military leaders say such funding must continue to maintain the pace of rotations and exercises in Europe, all designed to reassure allies and act as a deterrent to potential adversaries.
For the U.S.-based troops carrying out those missions, there are benefits, too, Crosby said.
"The senior leaders with the Guard and Reserve clearly recognize that U.S. Army Europe provides fantastic training opportunities they can't get at home station."