GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - The U.S. military and host nation communities here have been neighbors for decades. Now they are partners in establishing cultural exchanges.

Col. Brian Boyle, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr, and city of Weiden Lord Mayor Kurt Seggewiss signed the first official partnership between the two communities May 28.

"As the garrison commander, it is one of my goals to invite our Soldiers to get out and get to know the towns they live in - and to meet their German neighbors," Boyle said.

"With our partnership, we'd like to provide these efforts with an official framework (and) expand our activities beyond meetings at the leadership level (by) setting the stage for organizational partnerships and personal friendships at the grassroots level," he added.

Members of both communities can expect to see more contact through sports, school activities and other local events, according to Boyle.

"A good example will be our planned neighbor's week in September," said Seggewiss. "For one week there will be activities that will bring the citizens of Weiden together with their neighbors," including the Czech city of Marienbad, which also has a partnership agreement with Weiden.

Seggewiss noted that 8,200 Soldiers are stationed in Grafenwoehr and Vilseck, and this number is expected to rise to 10,000 Soldiers and approximately 13,000 to 14,000 family members by 2010.

"These families not only live in their housing areas but also right among us," the lord mayor said, including 96 families in Weiden alone

Weiden is the largest nearby city and the 172nd Infantry Brigade, which is relocating to Grafenwoehr from Schweinfurt, is already familiar with the city, noted Boyle.

Many of the 172nd Soldiers and their families might end up living there and a vehicle such as the partnership agreement helps the garrison with promoting events and activities offered in Weiden, the colonel said.

Brigitta Brunner, government president of the Upper Palatinate district of Bavaria, to which Grafenwoehr and Weiden belong, also participated in the signing and afterwards said she hopes the Americans will consider the area "your second home."