U.S. ARMY GARRISON WIESBADEN, Germany – There is a saying that goes something along the lines of, “it’s a small Army,” and for many soldiers, nothing could be further from the truth.
However, Sgt. Mark McAlvain, an infantryman with Comanche Troop, 1st Squadron, 2d Cavalry Regiment, views that saying through many different lenses.
“What I really appreciate about being in the regiment is that we do these long, tactical vehicle convoys on roads that were built on top of the foundation of roads that were built by the Romans,” McAlvain said. “Then there are the roads that Napoleon's army marched across. The same roads that the Soviets pushed west on during World War II. You get this sense that you're a part of a centuries old tradition of soldiers crossing this continent.”
The sense of time and place in Europe’s history is hard to ignore while in the regiment, having fought in both World War I and World War II, as well as being a fixture of Operation Atlantic Resolve -- U.S. Army Europe’s effort to build readiness and enhance interoperability with ally and partner militaries.
“When my squadron went to France a few months ago,” he said, “we got to see a lot of sites where the Battle of Verdun took place, and walk through the bunkers and forts where the French and German soldiers stayed.’
“At night we were able to spend time with French soldiers, and what was cool about that experience is that I’m in charge of a rifle squad, and I was able to talk to two French sergeants who were also rifle squad leaders in a motorized infantry unit,” he continued.
Meeting them gave sense of defined familiarity in U.S. Army Europe’s vast area of responsibility.
“So, I got to see the French version of myself and talk about our connection. People who grew up in this whole other part of the world and I wouldn't think I had any similarities with them,” McAlvain said while finishing his train of thought.
Building a brotherhood in the military is not uncommon to the relationship between real brothers, but for McAlvain, he is able to experience both at the same time.
A Reno, Nevada, native, McAlvain is one of four brothers who have, or are serving, in the Army. His oldest brother got out of the Army the same month McAlvain entered it; his next oldest brother joined six months after McAlvain; and another brother was a culinary specialist in the reserves.
Besides the brother who was in the reserves, the rest are or were infantryman.
“I met a man that had served with the three of us that were infantryman, so that was kind of neat,” McAlvain said. “My first team leader was a soldier in the same fire team as my older brother. My middle brother’s first squad leader was my oldest brother’s first team leader. When I was stationed at Fort Irwin, one of my brothers went there for a rotation at the National Training Center. It had been a year since I had seen him, so it was nice to get him a home cooked meal.”
Even when not participating in operational missions that thread historical lines, the closeness of the Army is ever present.
“It’s very similar to an isolated community, to live on a tiny American enclave in the middle of Bavaria,” McAlvain said. “But it’s good for our sense of community involvement, because in a small place where everybody has the same barber, or goes to the same grocery store, the same church … there’s a sense of community that you can’t reach at a bigger place. You get to know everyone a lot better."
That strong sense of community is present not just in Vilseck where he is stationed, but in Wiesbaden as well.
Currently, McAlvain and his platoon are providing assistance to U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden by conducting medical screenings at various checkpoints. Even though he and his soldiers may be strangers, the Wiesbaden community have embraced them with open arms.
“The community has been welcoming, and even though the screenings can be frustrating for the disruption in their daily routines, they’ve been pretty sympathetic to the idea that we came from our homes to try to help make sure that they are safe,” McAlvain said. “Some of the families have even brought us home cooking.”
McAlvain has been able to take advantage of being away from his family by strengthening bonds with his fellow Pond guards at post access control points.
“It has been a great opportunity to practice my German,” he said. “They all speak excellent English, but they play along if you try to struggle through with some rough German, which is fun. They also ask a lot of questions about the United States, too, because not very many of them have actually ever been there.”
“Most of them seem to really know about three states, California, New York and Florida, so if you’re not from there, they have no idea what it’s like being from somewhere else like Reno,” McAlvain explained.
For now, though, McAlvain is just enjoying being in Germany, in the regiment and in the Army.
“If it wasn’t for the Army, I never would have had the opportunity to be here,” McAlvain said. “Being in Germany has been so cool, and it definitely has been the highlight of my career so far.”