Recently I was asked my opinion about a historic first for the U.S .Army. As reported by the Army Times, “A German Army brigadier general who recently served with NATO forces in Afghanistan is assuming duties as the chief of staff of U. S. Army Europe, the first time a non-American officer has held that position. Brig. Gen. Markus Laubenthal was most recently the commander of Germany’s 12th Panzer Brigade in Amberg, and chief of staff of Regional Command North, International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan.” Yeah, I know what you’re all saying: Obama has sacked so many of our own senior officers and generals that we had to “outsource” for a Chief of Staff. Ok, all jokes aside, this is certainly something General Patton would never have believed could happen.
However, let me share with you some truth from my 22 years of service. When I was an Artillery Battalion at Ft. Hood Texas in the “Steadfast and Loyal” 4th Infantry Division, we were part of the III (US) Armored Corps, “Phantom Corps.”
One of the Assistant Corps Commanders was a Canadian exchange General officer — I will never forget that because I had to brief him on our Multiple Launch Rocket System Battalion, as it was the newest upgraded system in the Army. He was a very astute officer, very engaging, and highly professional. So I would ask that everyone not go apoplectic and believe that we’ve never had foreign officers as part of our chain of command, even in operational units.
In addition, if you were to visit Ft. Leavenworth, home of the Combined Arms Center (CAC) and the Army Staff College, you will see many foreign flags flying on some of the homes. That’s because there are foreign exchange officers as instructors and also members of the CAC staff serving as associate doctrine writers. Heck, as a young artillery officer, my tactics instructor at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma was Major Gonzalez, a Venezuelan officer — and boy was he good and tough.
Brig. Gen Laubenthal will serve as the major staff assistant to USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell. Laubenthal will synchronize the command’s staff activities much as American predecessors have in the past. Now, I served with LTG Campbell in the 4th Infantry. He was the Commander of the 1st Brigade and you will find no better officer, leader and man as Don Campbell. So I don’t think he’s there doing anything to undermine the command structure of the USAREUR.
The Army Times says “Laubenthal’ s assignment comes at a time of strained relations between the U.S. and Germany as a result of disclosures over the past year that the National Security Agency, and more recently the Central Intelligence Agency, had been conducting information-gathering operations against German citizens, to include Chancellor Angela Merkel.” So some may think this could be a move to placate Chancellor Merkel. However, when you consider that we’ve already seen much coalition integration — such as in Afghanistan — this was certainly something of an eventuality.
Does the fact that a German officer is the U.S Army’s Chief of Staff in Europe trouble some people? Absolutely, and it reminds me of a great line a colonel once used on us dumb captains: “surprises are for birthdays.”
It would have been preferable if this had been reported to the American people earlier in the planning stages. Of course, when you have a Commander-in-Chief such as Obama, everything becomes suspect. I’m quite sure Brg. Gen Laubenthal is accomplished and competent and will fulfill his duties in a professional manner based upon U.S. staff and operational doctrine. If he doesn’t, trust me, LTG Don Campbell will send him packing.