WIESBADEN, Germany -- U.S. and German signal leaders learned about the history of a divided Germany and the future of the NATO alliance during a joint staff ride to the Point Alpha Memorial April 27-28, 2016 near Geisa, Germany.
Point Alpha was a U.S. observation post overlooking the strategic "Fulda Gap," the point where Western military planners believed the Soviets and Warsaw Pact countries would have initiated an attack on West Germany and NATO.
The Point Alpha staff ride brought together signal leaders from 5th Signal Command (Theater) and the Bundeswehr Communications and Information Systems Command (BwCISCOM), and, according to organizers, was the first of its kind to combine a site visit with a formal program of instruction.
"It's a way to gain historical knowledge of the role of NATO during the Cold War and a better understanding and link to NATO today," said Christine Straus, 5th Signal Command political advisor and one of the staff ride organizers.
The signal leaders toured the House on the Border Museum, walked the Path of Hope along the former East German patrol road and visited the former Point Alpha U.S. camp. There were also presentations about the history of the Bundeswehr during and after the Cold War, an introduction to how NATO works, and a future-oriented, scenario-based panel discussion.
Dr. Martin Rink, a Bundeswehr historian, described some of the immediate and ongoing changes within the Bundeswehr after reunification.
"Within a short period of time there were huge organizational transformations," Rink said.
Col. Juergen Schick, from the BwCISCOM's Concepts and Developments Branch, was one of the officers charged with integrating former East German Soldiers into the Bundeswehr after reunification. He said he entered the Bundeswehr in 1976 and remembers well the border and conflict between the Warsaw Pact and NATO states.
"We stood at a point on the border where I stood 30 years before, then it was a border and I couldn't cross it, but now I can. It was very emotional for me to look back at what was, what is now, and I see now it's much better," Schick said.
Jerry Deaver, 5th Signal Command G3 command portfolio manager, served two tours along the East-West German border, including with the 7th Corps Artillery which had responsibility for the Fulda Gap.
"The camaraderie we had on the American side and the friendships we made with the West Germans was very high," Deaver said.
He said it was very nostalgic and emotional for him to return to the former border area.
"Standing there where the former GDR troops once trudged up and down the border, it was kind of surreal. When I was here, it (reunification) was just something that we felt would never happen, but standing there and physically crossing that line, I felt a little teary eyed," Deaver said.
Volker Bausch, director of the Point Alpha Foundation, said the foundation and memorial want to show how the commitment of NATO Soldiers along the border ensured West Germany's freedom and helped shape the future of a unified Germany. He said the history of the Cold War and specifically the Point Alpha Memorial site offer important lessons for contemporary times.
"We need to have a political communication process between the military blocs and adversaries, but we also need to have a credible deterrence -- both are necessary and both form part of an overarching strategy," Bausch said.
Schick said the staff ride provided an important look back at history that will be especially beneficial to his younger Soldiers, many of whom weren't born when the wall came down.
"For the younger guys it was a good look back at what your comrades have done in that time, and maybe we can learn from that," Schick said.
5th Signal Command (Theater) builds, operates and defends network capabilities to enable mission command and create tactical, operational and strategic flexibility for Army, Joint and Multinational forces in the EUCOM and AFRICOM areas of responsibility.