By Thad Moyseowicz, USAG Brussels Public AffairsMarch 18, 2009
BRUSSELS, Belgium - In the course of back-to-back weeks, two U.S. government officials visited here, with U.S. Army Garrison Brussels directly supporting the trips.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to town March 5-6, followed by Vice President Joe Biden's visit March 10-11.
"It's a major mission for us," said garrison commander Lt. Col. Darin Conkright. "Each and every visit by a U.S. (dignitary) to Brussels always involves two garrison entities, our DVSE (Distinguished Visitor Support Element) and our TMP (Transportation and Motor Pool)."
Between the two of them, the Brussels DVSE and TMP support nearly 7,000 U.S. VIP visitors and their staffs.
This large volume should come as no surprise. Besides hosting headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization being the nearest large commercial airhead to nearby Mons and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, Brussels is the seat of the European Union.
"Since Brussels hosts both the NATO HQ and is the capital of Europe, we're guaranteed a steady flow of ranking U.S. officials," said John Boyd of the U.S. Mission to NATO. "We rely upon DVSE and TMP to get these visitors into Belgium and ensure the mechanics of their stays are problem-free."
The Brussels DVSE has been resourced by U.S. Army Europe since 1971. It is headed by long-time USAREUR employee Mike De Ryck, and his staff of three other Belgian employees.
Although a USAREUR asset, oversight and on-scene execution is the responsibility of USAG Brussels.
The DVSE's mission is to coordinate and make logistics arrangements for all NATO and EU-related visits of U.S. dignitaries to NATO HQ and SHAPE. It maintains its offices at the Brussels International Airport.
Visitors supported include the U.S. president, vice president, cabinet officers (particularly the secretaries of defense and state), members of Congress, flag and general officers of all four branches of services, ambassadors and other such dignitaries. The element also provides support for 10 local senior-ranking U.S. officials.
Finally, the element currently handles certain logistics arrangements for the crews of all U.S. military aircraft transiting through Brussels International Airport.
"Since most VIPs fly into Brussels on U.S. military aircraft, we book a lot of hotel rooms for the air crews," said DVSE assistant Thierry Wellemans. "We also make the arrangements to get their aircraft fueled and for ground transport."
Before becoming a DVSE employee five years ago, Wellemans worked as a driver in the USAG Brussels TMP.
"The DVSE and TMP need to always work hand-in-hand," said Wellemans, using the analogy that the DVSE is the support mission's head and the TMP the legs. "The TMP drivers are a critical part of the effort."
Although DVSE and TMP are not co-located, "We have each other's phone numbers programmed into our cell phones" said Sgt. 1st Class Cortillian Andrews, the TMP's truckmaster. "It's a complete team effort."
Andrews oversees five Soldiers and six Belgian civilian drivers assigned to the TMP. Another three Belgian employees are former senior drivers who help in the management and dispatch of driver tasks, and can, in a pinch, help out with the driving.
"We're player-managers," said Transportation manager Alberto Mantile, an Italian fond of soccer analogies.
But visits of the scale of the secretary of state or vice president require surges of even more experienced drivers.
"In cases like this, our TMP is augmented by drivers from SHAPE or USAG Schinnen, said Andrews. "We're always grateful for our colleagues' help."
The mission is both high-visibility and zero-defects. "These visitors come to Brussels to do important business for the United States," explained Boyd, "so it's important they and their staff members make their movements on time."
Commenting about the two most recent visits, Boyd said, "As usual, the USAG Brussels DVSE and TMP provided simply outstanding and faultless support. Everything went off without a hitch."
The work is very much behind the scenes in its nature. The TMP personnel, in particular, are heavily tasked. Accordingly, Andrews was pleased that he was able to work his drivers' schedules during Vice President Biden's visit to allow a few of them to participate in an embassy-organized "meet and greet" event.
"Our people got to meet the vice president, shake his hand and pose for pictures with him. It really pumped them up; motivated them; made them understand the importance of what we do," explained Andrews.