[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story continues our series Benelux Family Legacy, which features multigenerational stories from U.S. Army Garrison Benelux and tenant unit partners. This series explores the people who comprise the garrison and delves into the legacy they have created in the Benelux.]
USAG BENELUX-BRUSSELS – Until his retirement February 2022, Leon Lee, the transportation officer and logistics manager for the Logistics Readiness Center – Benelux, would board the bus outside his house in the Walloon town Henripont, take the bus to the local train station, ride up to the Brussels Nord train station, and take the bus to U.S. Army Garrison Benelux – Brussels.
In the evening, he took the bus back to Brussels Nord, the train from there to his local train station and the bus the rest of the way back to his house, each way taking one and a half to two hours, depending on schedules and potentially even longer with delays.
“I do not want to drive in Brussels,” Leon said.
Both Leon and his son Michael Lee, the civilian personnel liaison for the USAG Benelux Directorate of Human Resources, live in the Belgian province Hainaut, where SHAPE and Chièvres Air Base are located.
Leon, a native of Great Dunmow, Essex, the United Kingdom, moved as an 11-year-old with his parents to his mother’s homeland of Belgium in 1965. His mother was killed in an automobile accident in Soignies, but he and his father, both British citizens, stayed in the area.
Because of France’s withdrawal from NATO in 1967, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, or SHAPE, moved from Rocquencourt, France to its current location at Casteau, Belgium. Although Leon has no particular memories of this event as he was a child at the time, the event would eventually shape his life and career. What started with Leon taking the position as a vehicle dispatcher with SHAPE in 1979 turned into 42 years and seven months of civilian service.
“When I started working at SHAPE as a dispatcher, at the time there was a captain in charge of transportation, there was a captain in charge of household goods, and there was a major who was the transportation officer,” Leon said. “It was all military at the time. I was called into the major’s office, and he wanted to welcome me into the position. And then he told me something that I kind of laughed at at the time. He said, ‘Leon, you’re starting out as a dispatcher, but in a few years you’re going to be sitting in my seat.’ And I was, I did it, and I went higher than that.”
From working as a dispatcher, Leon became a driver testing instructor for government-owned vehicles. He created the personally owned vehicle driver testing program. He became a traffic manager. He even became the transportation officer as his former transportation officer had envisioned.
Leon continued moving on in his career, quite literally when he took a position as the director of logistics at Brussels in 2005. When Logistics Readiness Center – Benelux, or LRC Benelux, reorganized from the garrison to the 405th Army Field Support Brigade, Leon became a manager, performing essentially the same functions he had performed as the director of logistics.
“There is a big variety of support that’s provided by logistics,” Leon said. “You have a lot of different activities under you. You have the property book, you have the dispatching, you have the driver testing, you have the household goods and everything. These are the areas that I worked in, and all of the areas that I was managing, I understood every one of them because I went through every one of them.”
Leon expresses gratitude toward his wife Martine, whom he married in 2002 and with whom he has been a partner since 1982. He thanked her especially for enduring his daily early morning departures and late evening arrivals. The two have an apartment near the town of Dénia on the Mediterranean coast of Spain.
Michael Lee’s career started out on a similar trajectory as that of his father, but diverged significantly.
Michael was born in 1973, and when his father began working for SHAPE in 1979, Michael began attending elementary school there. He stayed until the fifth grade, and his education began in nearby Saint-Ghislain.
After school, Michael began working for the private sector. He soon began seeking employment with SHAPE.
“Some job opportunities were open around here,” said Michael. “I knew there was a way to grow, and this is the reason I decided to apply for a position and really start from the bottom and grow after years.”
Like his father, Michael started as a dispatcher in 2002 but at Brussels. Although he had spent time with his father when he worked as a dispatcher, he did not fully attribute his career choice to the childhood experience.
“What I really like is the Army, the way the Army works” said Michael. “And of course, seeing my father working with the Army probably put me in that direction.”
Michael did not stay a dispatcher long, applying for jobs at Chièvres Air Base, close to where he was building a house. He attained a position as an administrative support assistant with Civilian Human Resources Agency. He moved up to become a human resources assistant for CHRA. He then worked in human resources for the 39th Signal Battalion.
Michael recalled that he had had difficulties with an employer in the private sector. Wishing protection for himself and for others drove him to find employment in human resources.
“I was very interested with protecting myself on the HR side,” said Michael. “I really like taking care of personnel. That’s probably the reason why I stayed in the HR world, helping people, working together and taking care of them.”
Michael began working his current position as civilian personnel liaison in 2020. So far, he has had a career less than half as long as his father’s. On where his own career is heading, he aspires to supervise.
Although both Michael and Leon both worked for partner agencies within the USAG Benelux area of operations, their paths did not cross at work. Nevertheless, Leon expressed pride at his son’s accomplishments.
“Michael is a very willing person, and I knew he was really going to make it in his professional life, and his private life too,” Leon said. “He’s a very willing person, and I’m very proud of him.”
This series, Benelux Family Legacy, will continue to explore the many stories and experiences from the people who make up U.S. Army Garrison Benelux and its tenant organizations. Further stories like this on the legacy created through the garrison’s multigenerational workforce will continue to be published every Wednesday for a few more weeks.