BRUNSSUM, Netherlands – Few people have seen as much of U.S. Army Garrison Benelux as Hilmo Korac, Math Kubben, and Jeroen Smeets have – respectively painter, ground maintenance worker, and carpenter at the garrison’s Brunssum installation.
Throughout their careers, the three have experienced working at sites in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, maintaining materiel, buildings, and terrains, and repairing the homes of service members stationed in the tri-border area.
The tradesmen with the Directorate of Public Works recently shared memories of their combined 72 years at U.S. Army Garrison Benelux: memories of road trips to the Army Prepositioned Stock Site (APS-2) in Zutendaal, Belgium; of oiling train tracks at APS-2 Dülmen in Germany; and of various sites, old and new, in the Netherlands.
Their story began in Brunssum, at the former NATO Industrial Complex (NIC) site that now hosts USAG Benelux - Brunssum.
“We used to work in Brunssum in the nineties, back when NIC-central was still a POMS site, so we do have a connection to it,” Kubben said. “Take the office we’re in now, that beam used to hold a crane that would hoist tank components. Over there, you’d be sitting on the roof. And there were a lot of people. Mostly young mechanics, who liked a bit of mischief.”
POMS stands for Prepositioned Organizational Materiel Storage. Between 1984 and 2006 there were five locations for storage and maintenance of U.S. Army materiel in the Netherlands: Brunssum, Eygelshoven, Vriezenveen, Coevorden and Ter Apel. In total, between 2,000 and 3,000 people worked at the POMS sites.
Korac, Kubben, and Smeets faced reorganizations when the POMS sites closed in Brunssum in 2004 and Eygelshoven in 2006. Initially, they transferred to Eygelshoven, where they maintained and cleaned Army vehicles. They then transferred to DPW at the now-closed Schinnen installation.
“I think it’s a pity how Eygelshoven is sometimes portrayed; I had some of the best years of my working life there,” Smeets said. “I was originally an Army vehicle mechanic. We had a lot of fun among colleagues, we would crack jokes. But we always got the job done in time.
“There was some insecurity when we transferred,” continued Smeets. “I initially worked through an employment agency, but then I got a fixed contract. When Eygelshoven closed, I was very fortunate to become a carpenter at the Schinnen site.”
At DPW in Schinnen, the tradesmen became responsible for repairs and maintenance of terrains, buildings, and homes. Their work included fixing roof leakages, painting, emptying the recycling center, and salting the roads during winter. It was rewarding work, according to Korac, with the occasional memorable case.
“One time, we were asked to come to clean up a tree,” Kubben remembered. “It had fallen on the chaplain’s Mercedes convertible, leaving a dent in the hood. Fortunately, it missed the retractable roof. After we removed the tree, out comes the chaplain and says, ‘My sons, you are blessed!’”
Some assignments were further away, like the time Korac, Kubben, and Smeets helped a large German train company inspect and maintain train tracks at the APS-2 Dülmen.
“And we used to service addresses in Rotterdam and Brabant,” Korac said. “Once, we even worked at a base in Rheindahlen, where they had a complete village with American and British families.”
Kubben appreciated the chance to work in a different location every now and then.
“I enjoy mowing the lawn at the CYS (Child, Youth and School Services), for instance,” he said. “It feels like a little excursion when work isn’t always at the same place. I enjoy taking the car for a few hours to drive to a different site, like Zutendaal.”
When the USAG Benelux installation in Brunssum opened, the ‘new’ site was one the DPW tradesmen were closely familiar with.
“It’s nice to see how the buildings have changed since we worked here the first time,” said Smeets. “You can really see a difference in how it’s become. The buildings are definitely an improvement, and it’s easier now that the offices are closer together. Of all the sites I’ve worked at, Brunssum is my favorite.”
Having such a long history at the garrison means Korac, Kubben, and Smeets relations’ span decades.
“I remember, I took my little boy to a Fourth of July gathering, where the public affairs specialist held a speech,” Kubben told. “During the speech, my kid was making so much noise. Twenty years later I ran into the public affairs specialist again, and she still remembered – ‘It was your boy who shouted at that speech!’”
“We’re still in touch with our former colleagues in Eygelshoven,” said Smeets. “When we go there for an assignment and run into colleagues we used to work with, it’s nice to greet each other.”
“We’re a close team,” Kubben said. “Our team consists of about ten people in total, so we have each other’s back.”