Lawmaker presses Army to explore permanent armor presence in Europe

by Vern Evans

The congressman who leads a military quality of life panel wants the Army to “give serious consideration” to stationing an armor brigade in Europe after an Army Times investigation into suicides in tank units.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said in a statement that he found Army Times’ investigation “to be deeply troubling, especially that it could be so widespread in a single community.” The lawmaker, a retired Air Force brigadier general and the House Armed Services Committee’s quality of life panel chief, added that he was previously unaware of these issues.

According to an Army Times data analysis, members of armor brigades were more than twice as likely as other active duty soldiers to kill themselves between 2019 and 2021. During the same period, enlisted tankers killed themselves at more than three times the rate of other soldiers. Experts said tank brigades’ treadmill of training and non-combat deployments increase the community’s systemic suicide risk and make its soldiers more vulnerable to major life stressors.

The Army currently has two active duty tank brigades deployed to Europe. Despite efforts to reduce demands around the world, tank units still struggle to meet the requirement. The 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team begins deploying for Europe this month roughly 16 months after returning from their last Poland rotation in December 2022.

“It’s time for the Army to re-evaluate its global posture for armor and give serious consideration to permanently basing an additional [brigade combat team] in Europe,” he said. Bacon pointed at the Air Force’s struggle to maintain no-fly zones around the world in the 1990s as an example of “how the grind of endless presence rotations really tears up your force.”

Bacon described the deaths as a “red flag,” adding that “we need to remember that we’re talking about human beings, not appliances.”

In a previous response to questions from Army Times, service spokesperson Col. Roger Cabiness II described overseas basing as “not a simple task.” Such a move would require action from Congress, the Defense Department and diplomats at home and abroad.

Bacon’s call also comes on the heels of a Monday report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank that recommended the Army end rotational armor deployments to Europe in favor of permanently basing a brigade in Poland.

The report’s authors recommended that the Army abandon the rotational armor brigade deployment model because it “eats up … the Army’s force structure and long-term readiness.”

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

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