Benelux Managers Serve as Command 'Welcome Wagon'
January 14, 2008
CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium - When it comes to accessing data in the information age, most people use the Web. The same can be said for folks wanting to learn more about living in Belgium; they too use a program tagged as the W.E.B. But there's one big difference: the resource here is flesh and bone, not circuits and wires.
Accordingly, Veronique Hensgens, an Army Community Service relocation readiness program manager, wants new arrivals - especially spouses - to know that it matters to her that they find living in the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe and ChiAfA..vres Air Base military community an enjoyable experience.
Moving, by itself, is a major life change. The objective of the relocation program Army-wide is to reduce stress associated with the military's mobile life-style. The program provides support and information to the transferee - not only before and after a move - but on a continual basis throughout the tour.
One of its primary goals is to ensure that demands of the military lifestyle do not reduce the individual readiness of a servicemember, unit retention or family well-being.
Which is why Hensgens is excited about a new program called Welcome Everyone to Belgium, or W.E.B., that started here this week.
"This program is primarily geared toward spouses," she said. "Although they get some information by attending Headstart, this course is being designed to provide more information about services available in the community ... how to adapt to living in Belgium."
She also wants to provide newcomers with a primer about the ways of Belgians, especially those who don't have contact with Americans on a daily basis.
Hensgens, who is Belgian, spent about 10 years living in the United States. She remembers how being there and not knowing the language made life difficult, so she wants to ensure spouses new to Belgium get off on the right foot.
"The first impression is the one people remember forever," she said.
"Another reason for the course is we want (spouses and families) to meet other newcomers and to form a bond with Army Community Services, so they will come back and use (our) other resources," she added.
Vicki Hamlin, U.S. Army Garrison Benelux ACS director, said the readiness relocation program is "the one program we have that reaches everyone in the community. When (newcomers) have a successful transition in or out of this community, they tend to come back to ACS for other programs."
On the first day, the course focuses on various ACS programs, including employment opportunities, volunteer programs, Child and Youth Services and Family Advocacy.
Day two includes visits to SHAPE's health facility and the Ambroise Pare Hospital in nearby Mons.
Day three is filled with information for those new to Belgium. Some of the subjects broached are "Who we (Belgians) are," "What to expect," and "Differences between the USA and Belgium." This is followed by an afternoon bus ride to the Mons train station, where participants are shown how to catch a free bus ride to the mall Grands PrAfA..s.
On the final day, Hensgens takes the class via bus and train to Brussels. Once there, they will hop the metro to a place she calls "The Warehouse," for shopping tips.
This is followed with lunch in downtown Brussels and a tour of the Grand Place.
"I really think this class will give spouses a better understanding of where they are," Hensgens said. "And by showing them how easy it is to get around by public transportation, it will hopefully make them a little more adventurous. I want them to have the best possible experience while they are assigned here."
According to Dr. Nancy Bernardy, USAG Schinnen ACS director, a recent needs assessment determined the importance of such programs as W.E.B. and Headstart. "Those first few weeks can make a lasting impression and determine if a tour will be one that is fondly remembered."
That is why a solid ACS relocation program is critical, she added.
"It is particularly important that USAG Schinnen have a strong relocation program because services are different in the Netherlands," she said. "People often relocate here and think everything will work (similar to) the way it did in Germany, but that just is not the case."
When USAG Schinnen ACS hosts its monthly newcomer's orientation, each attendee receives a combination of Dutch education and cultural adaptation. The tour provides a windshield view of the services offered and a taste of the Limburg region, including: USAG Schinnen; Joint Force Command Brunssum; Geilenkirchen Air Base, Germany; Heerlen Hospital; the train station; and Dutch lunch food.
"Our goal is to help them get settled as easily as possible and to make the right choices for their families," Bernardy said.
At USAG Brussels, Cathy Blumenthal has been managing the program for eight years.
"We follow the basic Army relocation readiness program as laid down in regulations, but (because of where we are) we've had to do some significant tailoring to make our program relevant to the community we serve," she said.
The basic difference between Brussels and most other Army communities is that it is a "virtual" post, she added.
"Brussels has no military family housing, no commissary or post exchange, or any of the numerous features that characterize the larger bases," she said. "My challenge is to demonstrate to our relocating families that an outstanding quality of life is possible in Brussels."
Blumenthal, as well as others in the relocation business, believes that helping newcomers is a continuous, long-term commitment.
"Nothing pleases me more than to help them acquire the tools they need to make their assignment a positive experience" she said.
(Thad Moyseowicz, USAG Brussels public affairs office, and Sarah Schmidt, USAG Schinnen public affairs office, contributed to this story.)