By Marie-Lise Baneton (IMCOM Europe)November 4, 2019
CHIEVRES, Belgium -- During their recent visit to U.S. Army Garrison Benelux, Tommy Mize, Director of Installation Management Command-Europe and Command Sgt. Maj. Samara Pitre, his senior enlisted advisor, were able to see first-hand how the garrison is evolving in every community.
Change, defined as "an act or process through which something becomes different," has been a deliberate process for the past few years in the Benelux. As they traveled through the geographically dispersed garrison, both senior leaders could see the signs of transformation -- renovated buildings, trucks and cranes preparing new sites -- and of a growing mission at Chièvres Air Base and at the Army Prepositioned Stock sites.
For Pitre, who was the garrison's senior enlisted advisor before she moved to her current assignment, change is happening for the good of the customer and of IMCOM-Europe's mission. "What we have to understand is Benelux has executed transformation, which has improved support to the service members in this region in support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization," she said.
In the SHAPE-Chièvres area, the garrison and its mission partners have moved from Caserne Daumerie to Chièvres Air Base, putting the headquarters and those who deliver services within walking distance, improving the customer's experience.
The combination of more centralized services with the availability of the NATO airfield at Chièvres Air Base adds to the garrison's significance. "Honestly, it shapes the plans for the future on what could be possible here on Chièvres," said Pitre. "The last couple of years, utilizing Chièvres as an Intermediate Staging Base for United States Army-Europe and European Command actually has even opened the eyes of the rest of Europe in the capabilities that are available out here in this Western part of Europe," she added.
Construction is continuing at the USAG Benelux-Brunssum site in The Netherlands. Services started moving from the Emma Mine Complex in Schinnen to the new site this fall and by the spring of 2020, the entire tri-border community will be operating from the brand new facilities.
In Brussels, community members can already see the first signs of transformation. Though the move to the Sterrebeek annex will not be complete until 2024, combined efforts between the American School in Brussels, the Corps of Engineers and the garrison just led officials and community members to break grounds for the new Brussels American School and to dedicate the new athletic complex.
USAG Benelux is also providing a home for those assigned to the APS sites. "Between the support to NATO and taking on the APS mission, that has brought capability that has helped towards what we in IMCOM-Europe are calling 'operationalizing the garrisons'," said Pitre.
In a few months, the Army will be validating the role of two APS sites in the Benelux -- Eygelshoven, The Netherlands and Zutendaal, Belgium during DEFENDER 20, a U.S. Army Europe-led joint, multinational training exercise with activities planned to take place from April to May 2020, with personnel and equipment movements occurring from February through July 2020 in Central Europe.
With approximately 37,000 allied and U.S. service members anticipated to participate, and the deployment of more than 20,000 U.S. service-members from the U.S., DEFENDER 2020 and linked exercises will be the largest deployment of US-based Army forces to Europe for an exercise in the last 25 years.
The training involves the participation of allies and partners from 18 nations and supports objectives defined by the NATO to build readiness within the alliance and deter potential adversaries.
"USAREUR is relying on those APS sites; they are relying on the personnel that are at these different locations to support the USAREUR mission, especially in exercises like DEFENDER 20," Pitre said. "All the Soldiers and civilians in this area should absolutely be proud of their contribution to the overall mission across Europe."
Pitre commends team Benelux's accomplishments. "As you know, IMCOM, IMCOM-Europe and all the garrisons are a majority civilian but we all work for an Army organization," she said. "What I've learned and seen over the years, especially with our host nation employees, is the pride they take in talking about the fact that they have been working for the U.S. Army for 30 and 40 years. It's very important for the junior Soldiers who are coming in."
USAG Benelux is not the only organization going through the process. The Army is modernizing and the Installation Management Command recently realigned as a major subordinate command under the Army Materiel Command in an effort to enhance readiness across Army installations.
"What we can look at is nothing but positive," Pitre said. "We now fall under a four star command, that is at the table, able to speak on our behalf and able to understand and chime in when something needs to be adjusted. I believe Gen. Perna and his team up at AMC understand that and that will be very helpful for the team."
The garrison's mission has evolved over time, people have changed, customer needs have changed, but what has not changed is the garrison's commitment to quality service and to the Army values, those same values that prevailed on the frontlines 75 years ago.
As Americans and Belgians are preparing for the Battle of the Bulge commemorations, Pitre is reflecting on the importance of the commemorations. "It's two things with commemorating. First of all, 75 years ago a major battle occurred, where we lost a lot of people on all the allied fronts, not just one country or the other," she said. "We cannot forget where we came from. We cannot forget what has been done to lay the foundation to where we are now, and we cannot forget the people that got us there."
She also believes in upholding military traditions and paying respect. "Part of stewarding the Army profession is to going back, putting on your good uniform or getting in formation and getting out there marching in a parade and understanding why we are here in Europe," she said.