By Keith PannellAugust 20, 2019
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- The German-American Community Office (GACO) has been helping foster understanding, work out differences and answer cultural questions for both Americans and Germans for the past 15 years in the Kaiserslautern Military Community.
The GACO was established in Feb. 2003 and is co-sponsored with the city of Kaiserslautern by the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein AB and U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz. It's located at Lauterstrasse 2 in the heart of downtown Kaiserslautern, across from the tall City Hall Building.
The five people (two from the city, two Air Force civilians and an Army civilian) who make up the staff provide help in any matter to Americans, both military and civilian, and Germans who have questions or issues.
Sissi Kösling, Kaiserslautern city employee, who has been with the GACO since its inception, said the city and government employees who sit behind the desks in the GACO office are there because they want to help people.
"We're trying to get Germans and Americans together," she said. "Most of the questions we get are administrative. Or, it has to do with dealing with neighbors. Americans have a lot of questions about German utility bills or laws. Germans want their American neighbors to understand quiet hours and rules about pets."
Petra Lessoing, USAG RP Public Affairs Office, sits at the GACO every Tuesday. She says when Americans come to her, she starts at the beginning.
"They get a briefing on specific topics such as Visa for visiting family members, international drivers' license, tourist passport, German animal protection law, federal recycling law and how to drive in Germany," she said. "But I also give some good leisure and recreation tips and encourage them to go out and experience their community and other places in Germany."
"We want to make sure the Soldiers and Airmen and their families understand they don't have to stay on base or in their barracks," added Kösling.
Lessoing said the USO Newcomer's Orientation Tour makes a stop at the GACO every other week. The 20-50 members of each group always have questions and Lessoing and the other members of the GACO are always ready to help get the correct answer.
"I am always very happy when I am able to find the right way to solve a problem, such as a utility bill that is too high, or a phone call to the landlord to help settle and avoid misunderstandings," Lessoing said. "But also Germans approach us when they need assistance regarding complaints with American neighbors or installations, or when they would like to apply for a job with the US military. I am glad matters are so diversified; it gives me the chance to learn a lot and pass it on."
The Newcomer's Tour is sponsored by the KMC United Service Organization. Gretchen Galietti, USO Area Operations Coordinator, said the tour is a valuable day for those who take it.
"It's extremely important. Those tours enhance the experience for newcomers to the KMC," she explained. "We know it's important for our newcomers to have the opportunity to get to know their new surroundings."
Kösling laughed while explaining that utility bills and trouble with neighbors are certainly not the only things they help with.
"We help Americans who want to stay here and retire here. We help with casualty benefits for widows and widowers. We take calls from people who haven't been in the area in decades but want us to try and find an old friend they had. We've even helped find a one-night-stand who was the father of a baby. They sent us a picture of themselves with the baby," she noted. "We are the only office of its kind. So, we end up answering questions for the whole country. And, if we don't have the answer, we'll find it for you."