SEMBACH, Germany – After high school, Dan Gasparino planned to attend college to become a teacher, but when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1972 and sent to Germany his life took a different route. That route led Gasparino to Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation where he’s been supporting Soldier and family programs since 1978.
Gasparino credits his time in the service with steering him toward his Army civilian career. While on active duty as a military policeman in Germany, the sports-minded Gasparino took over his battalion’s sports program.
At that time, many of the troops stationed in Germany were single or unaccompanied because of the draft. The atmosphere could be tough, Gasparino said. Many draftees didn’t want to be in the service. Some used drugs and alcohol as outlets for their discontent. Some people just couldn’t adjust to the Army lifestyle, Gasparino said, including a close friend of his.
“Between drinking, and just sitting in the room playing cards and not doing anything, it didn’t help the situation,” Gasparino said. “You could see the results of what happened to them.
“I saw the good and the bad at the time, and being that I was very sports-oriented,” Gasparino said, “I always had an outlet, and I thought that was good.”
At his small installation, Gasparino helped build a softball field and a handball and racquetball court. The installation opened a small theater, library and photo lab. Gasparino said he wouldn’t have gotten into photography without access to the photo lab, and he saw how these activities made a difference in the lives of the other Soldiers stationed there, as well.
“That drove me to looking at something other than being a teacher, and I really kind of enjoyed that experience,” Gasparino said, “When I did get out of the service, I went to school and decided to get into the recreation field, so I studied recreation and business.”
While Gasparino went back to the states for his university education, he completed an internship between completion of his undergraduate and graduate degrees with what was then the Armed Forces Recreation Center in Germany. He returned to Berchtesgaden, Germany, upon graduation and began his career with Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation in 1978 as the first civilian recreation director at the site.
Besides a several-year stint in the states, since then, Gasparino has mainly worked in many roles within FMWR in Germany and currently serves as the deputy G9 and Recreation Branch chief with Installation Management Command Europe. Throughout his career, Gasparino has overseen sports and recreation trips, supported programming for deployed troops, procured equipment and been involved in the planning of new facilities and the closing of others.
In recent years, Gasparino said he’s proud to have had an impact on the construction of various FMWR facilities, including the newly opened Hub at U.S. Army Garrison Benelux, a multi-functional recreation facility that includes virtual reality and gaming areas, escape rooms, rock-climbing, food and beverage programs and more.
While FMWR programming and facilities, as well as the lives of Soldiers and their families, have changed over the years, Gasparino said, for him it has always been about creating positive experiences for Soldiers and their families that can have a life-long impact.
“It was a good opportunity to do something for Soldiers,” Gasparino said, reflecting on his time in the service, on his career of more than four decades and on the importance of recreational opportunities for service members. “I kept that in the back of my mind the whole time, so every time I think of doing something, I think about single Soldiers sitting in barracks.”