|The tomb of Vasco de Gama in the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem, Lisbon. From: CIA World Factbook.Add caption|
U.S. Reduces Staffing, Operations at Lajes Field
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2012 - The United States is reducing staff and operations at Lajes Field, Portugal, officials said today.
The field is on the Portuguese island of Terceira, part of the nine-island Azores archipelago in the mid-Atlantic, 900 miles west of Lisbon and 2,200 miles east of Washington, D.C.
The decision reflects U.S. operational requirements and is part of a DOD effort to find efficiencies and cost-cutting measures worldwide
There are now roughly 1,100 U.S. and Portuguese personnel at the base and U.S. officials say the workforce will likely shrink by at least half. Aircraft operations support will also drop, and the United States will return roughly 300 of the 400 buildings on base to the Portuguese government, officials said.
Washington will pay to maintain tower operations and emergency firefighting services, officials said.
By the summer of 2014, airmen will begin to serve unaccompanied 12-month tours and the last families will depart the island. The DOD schools there will then close, officials said.
While a significant change, the reduction does not reflect any diminution of the strategic relationship between the United States and Portugal. "The United States is grateful for Portuguese contributions to the national and allied defense, and for its support and partnership on a variety of security issues," James J. Townsend Jr., deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO Policy, said in a statement.
Townsend recognized Portuguese contributions to NATO operations including deploying troops to Afghanistan.
"While we must reduce our presence in the Azores," he said, "we are not leaving and our strategic relationship with Portugal will continue."
Townsend stressed that the decision to cut forces at Lajes is driven purely by budgetary demands.
"Other avenues for security cooperation exist, and Portugal continues to be an important and valued partner to the United States," he said. DOD will work closely with U.S. and Portuguese counterparts to find ways to increase cooperation with Portugal, including in the Azores.
U.S. Ambassador to Portugal Allan J. Katz said, "The U.S. will continue to strengthen bilateral cooperation across a wide range of sectors including defense, justice, home affairs, and science and we will continue to promote commercial and investment opportunities benefitting both our countries."
Lajes remains an important location for support to aircraft transiting to and from the United States, but flight operations have dropped over the years.
The United States has had a presence in Lajes since World War II, when Portugal allowed the U.S. and Great Britain to combat the Nazi submarine menace. The field was also a stopover for European-bound aircraft at a time when aircraft range was considerably smaller.