By Ms. Rachel E Parks (IMCOM)October 13, 2009
CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium - Within the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux there are many civilians who work tirelessly within both the U.S. and international communities to facilitate training, education and medical care among other things. Due to the close ties between SHAPE and the USAG Benelux, a number of civilians find themselves in a variety of joint roles, forging a link between military members from around the world.
The true spirit of partnership and alliance building within the USAG Benelux community can be seen at a seemingly modest place, the SHAPE American High School. The school is a traditional American high school, complete with the usual classes and extracurricular activities, but it also hosts a large population of international students. The teachers and administrators in the American school system are a prime example of civilians who work in a joint and multi-national environment.
Walking through the hallways of the SHAPE American High School, one can hear an astounding mix of languages. The school is open to any school-age dependents of military or civilian personnel assigned to SHAPE. Within the American High School, slightly less than 50 percent of the students are non-American according to school registrar Leslie England.
Language Arts department chair, Michael Novak said that there are both challenges and rewards to working in a joint environment. "There is a challenge that comes with teaching a mix of students. I teach senior British literature to a class that has twelve different nations represented. Because of that you're missing some of that common ground that you might have in a standard American high school, but it also enhances the learning environment by bringing different viewpoints. It's amazing to see that tolerance and acceptance," said Novak.
Novak said that the friendships formed within the classroom between teens from different nations is exciting but the links formed between civilian educators and the children of military and civilian employees from around the world is truly striking.
"These young men and women always come back to visit this school. We used to have two kids from Poland who would come visit their teachers after they graduated by taking an 18-hour bus ride one way. They would stay for a few days and then take the 18-hour bus ride home," said Novak.
He also touched on the impact that civilians within the school system have on shaping the destinies of NATO countries around the world.
"These kids are essentially ambassadors. They are leaders when they go back to their home countries or their own militaries," he said.
Joanna Yamamoto, the 11th and 12th grade guidance counselor and Department of Defense Education Activity civilian said that watching the international students learn more about the cultures of their fellow students, as well as seeing them immerse themselves in the culture of an American school system is always inspiring.
"We all love to see the new international students start in the fall. And I love seeing them at special events that are typically American like homecoming, graduation or prom. They always say that they've seen those things on TV but now they get to live it," she said with a smile.
England, Novak and Yamamoto all stressed that the role civilians play in shaping the educational experiences for children of Alliance members is not only rewarding for them, but is a way of building bridges with the members of the militaries from around the world.
And the experience is often so rewarding for the teaching staff and administrators that some have been a part of the SHAPE school system for a lengthy amount of time.
The education field is not the only place within the Benelux and NATO where civilians are filling in as the liaison between different nations or a number of military services.
An equally important mission within the Benelux falls to the Training Support Center staff, who keep American Servicemembers supplied with the space and supplies for mission critical training. The staff also facilitates training between Belgian and other international entities on ChiAfA..vres Air Base.
"There's going to be a Belgian police exercise on the air base in October, this is actually the third time we've done this, I believe," said Blaine Curtis, the chief of the TSC Benelux. "It's going to be simulated riot control for the Tournai police district. There really is a lot of partnership training that takes place here."
Within the last few months, the TSC has provided a place for American Soldiers and Airmen to train with the Belgian 1st Field Artillery Regiment, as well as members of the SHAPE International Military Police and Soldiers from USAG Brussels and USAG Schinnen. Curtis said there are also plans in the works to create an agreement that allows members of the German military to use the training area and agreements with other NATO partnership countries may not be too far down the road.
"As a civilian, that's what my career has been, training for Soldiers," said Curtis.
Curtis added that due to the unique nature of having U.S. Servicemembers side-by-side with international Servicemembers gives the USAG Benelux a chance to take part in something special.
"You train the way you fight. With Afghanistan being the main mission of both NATO and U.S. forces, you have to be able to do combined operations. You need to be able to work with Servicemembers from the Alliance. I think, here, we see that partnership more than some other places around USAREUR," said Curtis, as he explained why it is so vital for civilians to be able to facilitate the exchange of information and training in an international environment.
Alliance support takes place in more ways throughout the local area. A prime location of American and Belgian civilians supporting U.S. and international entities, including NATO, can be found in Hangar six on ChiAfA..vres Air Base, in the USAG Benelux Consolidated Maintenance Center. Chief of the maintenance division, Jeff Shriver, explained what his office does to offer behind the scenes support that may not always be glamorous but is always appreciated.
The CMC provides shop and garage services, among other things, for a large customer base within the Benelux footprint. This not only includes supporting the U.S. Army entities but the U.S. Air Force and groups within NATO.
The CMC has taken on varied tasks over the last year, including refurbishing both Army and Air Force tactical and maintenance vehicles and providing basic support to a fleet of special cars that can be used on various NATO missions.
"Those vehicle repairs can be difficult, not all the vehicles we see are what could be described as normal cars and that can take a lot of patience and TLC when the staff is working on those," said Shriver, as he explained some of what his shop undertakes. The civilian employees have also partnered with some members of the Air Force stationed at ChiAfA..vres to increase their knowledge of various machinery, which Shriver said will come in handy in the coming months as civilian CMC employees expand their job duties to include standard maintenance of generators spread around throughout the various military locations in the local area.
"All the things these civilians do for the whole community, no one can do that alone. It's a team effort and I'm really pleased with what we offer in the Benelux," said Shriver, as he listed a laundry list of jobs civilians and contractors fill in the Benelux to support and partner with joint agencies as well as multiple nations.
Regardless of the job title that's held, whether it is educating, training or supporting the missions of the various American and international entities in the Benelux area, civilians will continue to support the growth and progress of partnerships and alliances within the dynamic environment.