Brussels: A Joint, Inter-agency Community
October 13, 2009
BRUSSELS, Belgium - The U.S. Army has had a formal presence in Brussels since August 1967. The predecessor activity of the U.S. Army Garrison Brussels was then called the NATO Support Activity (NSA) and was activated by the Army to carry out its mission of supporting the U.S. representation at the NATO alliance's then-new Brussels headquarters.
The NSA was abolished in October 2005, when the existing entity assumed its new designation as the U.S. Army Garrison Brussels, a unit of the Army's Installation Management Command-Europe.
The USAG Brussels supports some 2,700 Department of Defense, Department of State and associated U.S. government agency employees and their family members stationed in Brussels. Willie Vigil, the garrison's Plans, Analysis and Integration Office director, explained: "The USAG Brussels is a fully-fledged U.S. Army installation, but its charter remains to support a predominantly non-Army joint and interagency community. That's the mission that's been assigned us by the Army."
The Army-minority nature of the Brussels community is not always fully recognized. "We have some 119 Soldiers stationed in Brussels and 268 members of the other U.S. Armed Forces," he noted. "And the active duty component is outnumbered by a large civilian component - about 600 - drawn from a variety of U.S. government agencies."
The inter-agency and joint flavors of the Brussels community start from the top. The U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, the Honorable Ivo Daalder, is the only U.S. ambassador in the world who reports to two different Cabinet secretaries, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense.
The U.S. Mission to NATO which he heads reflects that inter-agency composition, with more than half of its billets being funded and manned by the DoD.
Similarly, the senior U.S. military officer in Brussels and U.S. Military Representative to the NATO Military Committee is currently Navy Vice Adm. William Sullivan, who presides over a joint uniformed staff. This demography is unusual for a typical Army installation.
"We don't think it makes us in any way special," explained Garrison Commander, Lt. Col. Darin Conkright, "but it is the reality we operate in, the job the Army has given us."
USAG Brussels, in its entirety, consists of 31 Soldiers, 57 U.S. civilians and 85 Host Nation civilians. It is the only U.S. military command in Brussels.
"We provide our community with the infrastructure and quality of support it needs in order to perform the nation's business in Brussels. We're proud to fly the Army's banner in this joint, multi-agency community," said Conkright.
Conkright sees no conflict between running an Army garrison and serving a predominantly non-Army community. "First off, we do have a substantial Army presence in Brussels. When it comes to the 119 Soldiers stationed in Brussels and their families, our goal is to make their assignment here the best one they will know, quality-of-life wise, in the Army," he said. "But we're not in a position to treat the rest of our community as second-class citizens. We're pleased to extend to all Brussels community members, regardless of service or agency affiliation, the same high standard of service enjoyed by our Soldiers and their families."
That net result is a community that receives seamless support. The garrison's efforts in that direction were recognized by the 2008 Secretary of the Army Superior Quality of Life Award in the small installation category.
"Our overall goal is to bring our community together as one. As an Army garrison, we're proud of our success in routinely making that happen" said Conkright.