Kaiserslautern icon 'tries to help everyone'
January 28, 2010
- Kaiserslautern's military personnel chief retires after 23 years in government service
- Helping somebody is a tremendous amount of comfort and accomplishment to John Haldemann
- People in the Kaiserslautern community pass on their how-he-helped-me stories
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany - 'How John Haldeman helped me' narratives have echoed throughout the community here for the past 23 years.
Haldeman is the U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern's Military Personnel Division chief, who is responsible for passports, ID cards, officer and enlisted records and reassignments, in- and out-processing, promotions and as he likes to say, "what needs to be done."
However, it's his role as the garrison's retirement services and casualty affairs officer that is the reason behind most of the how-he-helped-me stories.
In these roles, he helps military retirees and their survivors from all over Europe apply for retirement and survivor benefits.
Haldeman led the Army's casualty notification effort when an Italian aerial acrobatic team crashed at Ramstein Air Base during Flugtag 1988, killing 70 and injuring 346 spectators.
Thousands is the number that Haldeman quotes on how many retirees, widows, widowers and orphans he has helped over the years.
"All the stuff that needed to be taken care of, he took care of it, and he advised me of everything," said Elke Stecher, describing her personal account of how Haldeman helped her after her husband William, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, died in 2008.
Rattling off the top of his head, Haldeman said there are roughly 850 retirees, 400 widows and two widowers currently living in the Kaiserslautern military community. He has a four-drawer filing cabinet in his office neatly stuffed with cases.
"John Haldeman - his knowledge of retiree and personnel issues, civilian and military administration - can't be touched by anyone," said Don Gwinn, the garrison's misconduct officer and a member of the U.S. Army Europe Retiree Council, who has known Haldeman for more than 20 years. "He is an icon to retirees, widows, widowers, orphans, disabled, veterans and active duty."
Although he hasn't been back home since 1977, Haldeman still speaks loud and fast from his upbringing during the late 1930s to 1950s in the coal mining town of Mahanoy City, near Scranton, Pa. He joined the Army in 1956, and retired as a command sergeant major in 1986. The following year, he began working at the garrison.
"John is rough around the edges, but you will not find a person who is willing to self-sacrifice like he is," said John Gregory, a garrison human resource technician who has worked for Haldeman for almost a year. He added that he has often seen Haldeman work nights, weekends and holidays.
Jan. 28 will be Haldeman's last work-week day. He will retire Jan. 31.
"Helping somebody is a tremendous amount of comfort and accomplishment to me," said the 71-year-old, who carries two cell phones at all times and his lunch in his briefcase everyday. "That's a big thing - not that you want to beat the system, but that you want to make sure the entitlement comes when the entitlement is theirs."
Cynthia Panzani, a former Navy retiree activities officer in La Maddalena, Italy, had heard about Haldeman and how he makes things happen for retirees, and now, she tells people the same thing by relating her own how-he-helped-me story.
A Navy retiree, who was living in Kaiserslautern, was trying to stop about $200 from being taken out of her retirement pay every month for survivors' benefits that she had not signed up for, said Panzani, who added this had been going on for seven years, totaling close to $14,000.
"It seemed like minutes," she said, about the visit they had in Haldeman's office in February 2008. "He got on the phone and found the right person, who must have said something like she won't be able to get all her money back.
"John leaned back in his chair," Panzani imitates the movement she remembers, "And says, 'Oh shipmate, I think we can get all her money back for her, don't you''"
"Just amazing," said Panzani, still laughing about a retired Army command sergeant major saying the term shipmate. "My friend did indeed get all her money back. She received the check by the end of the month. Here, she and I had tried for seven years, writing and calling, and John Haldeman got it done with one phone call."
Joe Copple, a human resources technician in the garrison's ID card section, has worked for Haldeman for more than a year.
"It's been a constant parade during the day, starting right after lunch, of people coming in to pay respects to the man," said Copple, who first heard about Haldeman in 1998 when he was stationed in Mannheim.
Sgt. Micah Holtzman, a human resources technician who has worked for Haldeman for more than two years, credits Haldeman for his recent promotion to E-5.
"He's always looking out for Soldiers," said Holtzman. "He tries to help everybody."
Bridget Koenig, Landstuhl Fisher House assistant manager, has worked with Haldeman for four years in his capacity as the garrison's casualty affairs officer.
"Everywhere he is known, not just everywhere in Germany, but in the states, Europe and downrange. He's helped our coalition guys here when they needed help," she said. "I can always turn to John for a question and an answer - he's always there - always."
If it is an imminent death situation, Koenig said that Haldeman is the person who sits down and goes over all the affairs with the families, and helps them with all the paperwork and who they need to contact.
She added that she has seen him many times - on his own dime - pick families up from the Frankfurt airport. She has also seen him and his wife, Jacqueline, at the Fisher House or at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center assisting families and Soldiers at all hours.
Haldeman and Jacqueline met and later married in Verdun, France, 51 years ago. They will retire to North Carolina, where they will be closer to their two daughters, Francine and Peggy, both of whom followed their father into civil service careers.
"I'm contented," said Haldeman, about his more than 50 years of service to his country. "I don't think I ever failed at any mission in getting that money back or that entitlement to the people who were entitled to it."