USAACE International Military Sponsors
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Lt. Col. Helen Mammino, Australian liaison officer to the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, and her family share a memento with their new friend and sponsor Harriet Schmitz, after their household goods arrived at their home Feb. 17, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Kelly Morris) (Photo Credit: Kelly Morris) VIEW ORIGINAL
USAACE Military Sponsors
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Lt. Col. Helen Mammino, Australian liaison officer to the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, talks with her new friends George and Harriet Schmitz who volunteer as sponsors for foreign military families Feb. 17, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Kelly Morris) (Photo Credit: Kelly Morris) VIEW ORIGINAL
USAACE International Military Sponsors
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Lt. Col. Helen Mammino, Australian liaison officer to the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, her husband Marty, and their daughter Kate stand for a photo with Harriet and George Schmitz, a local couple who volunteer as sponsors for international military families Feb. 17, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Kelly Morris) (Photo Credit: Kelly Morris) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT RUCKER, Ala. — Those who enter the gates to Fort Rucker have likely heard the words many times: “Welcome home.”

For international liaison officers and their families stationed at the home of Army Aviation, the welcome they receive goes beyond a salutation. Before they arrive, a volunteer network is already established to make them feel more at home, and ensure they have a ready resource in the local community.

Lt. Col. Helen Mammino, Australian liaison officer, and her family already knew by word-of-mouth of sponsors George and Harriet Schmitz. The couple has served as volunteer sponsors for international students and liaison officers for years. Within a few weeks of Mammino's arrival in the States, she received a call with a friendly welcome for her and her family.

“I instantly knew I had that connection with them,” Mammino said. “It’s a trusted familiarity when you’re connected through mutual friends. We’re very fortunate to be part of that sense of community and friendship.”

The presence of liaison officers like Mammino at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence helps strengthen mutually-beneficial relationships with U.S. allies and partners.

For Mammino, who has a background in aviation special operations and just completed battalion command in Australia, this is her first time serving as an LNO.

“It’s a big move, and it’s a big change. It’s always daunting, particularly with a teenage daughter,” she said. “Knowing we have people to come to is reassuring.”

George Schmitz, a Vietnam veteran and former OH-6 Cayuse driver, retired after 20 years of active duty service, settled in the Wiregrass area, and then worked for 26 years at Fort Rucker before retiring as a contractor.

“It felt like we never really got out of the military, being here, supporting the military, and that’s part of this thing,” he said. “To us it was just a natural extension, doing what we’re doing supporting people in the military and giving us the opportunity to meet great people. We’ve gotten a lot more out of this than we’ve ever given, believe me.”

A Soldier for Life, George and his wife Harriet have their own international story. Harriet hails from England, and the couple met in Europe while George was still on active duty.

“We spent 10 years in Germany, and coming over here Harriet went through the throes of being Americanized, so she better understands what a lot of the liaison wives or students’ wives (experience),” George said.

In the past Harriet has encouraged people to get involved in volunteerism in the community as a way to meet people and find resources, including through the Friends of the Library, where Harriet served as president for years.

“You try to incorporate them into things that you do in your personal life,” she said.

They first became sponsors after they heard about the call for volunteer sponsors for international students, and later their role shifted more to liaison officers.

“We thought it would be something fun to do to meet some fellow Europeans,” Harriet said.

They have hosted more than 155 students and officers and their families since 1990, including LNOs, doctors, individual students, and exchange officers comprised of British, Canadians, Germans, Australians, Dutch, Koreans, Danish and Italians.

They have taken groups to college football games at Troy University to explain the American sport. They provide tips on places to visit and stay, ideas for day trips, restaurants and events going on with arts and theater.

Little things people don’t think about can be somewhat challenging, such as differences in measurements for cooking, cuts of meat, customs, finding their way around, language barriers, or even shopping.

“If you buy something you don’t like you can return it. A lot of countries, you can’t do that. America is very liberal that way. … Just little things you don’t think much of,” Harriet said.

The couple has even shown up at Grandparents Day at school to support international military children, or served as a backup point of contact to pick the child up after school if the parents are out of town.

They have enjoyed sharing American traditions and holidays, including having as many as 20 or more people at their home to celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Mammino’s husband, Marty Colyer, who recently retired from the Australian military, said holidays in a new country have to be experienced really to be understood.

“A lot of foreigners get exposure to what Thanksgiving is superficially through these TV shows but don’t really understand it. When you’re included in a Thanksgiving dinner — and I’ve had a couple operations overseas and then here — it’s a wonderful personalization of it. You feel very grateful,” he said.

George and Harriet have also learned a lot about other nations over the years, including more about Anzac Day — a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that commemorates those who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

They hope people will keep an open mind while they are in-country, and grow their understanding beyond what they have seen about the U.S. on television.

“You just try to give them a better picture of America and let them know America is not always what you perceive it to be,” Harriet said. “Americans are very generous people. They will help you.”

The bottom line is just letting the liaison officers know they always have a friend to come to, and encouraging them to get as much out of their opportunity in the States as they can.

“We always say ‘it’s what you make of it’,” George said. “We just want them to know they’ve got an open door.”