By Ms. Christie Vanover (IMCOM)February 19, 2010
CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium - Thousands of miles from home, two U.S. Ambassadors are working to strengthen American and European relations in the Benelux.
U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium Howard Gutman and U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands Fay Hartog Levin both came to the Benelux in the summer of 2009.
"President Obama sent me to Belgium and my colleagues to other European countries to rebuild the partnership between Europe and the United States," said Gutman. "To that end, each individual has a role to play.
"For we have to get it right on a meaningful economic recovery; we have to get it right on changing climate change before it changes us; and we have to get it right in Afghanistan," he said.
Both the Belgian and Dutch militaries are partnered with the U.S. in the war in Afghanistan. Belgium has more than 500 service members deployed to the region and The Netherlands has nearly 2,000. Additionally, the nations' militaries are working alongside Americans and other NATO partners at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Belgium and at Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum in The Netherlands.
"The partnership is a strong one," said Levin. "There are many places around the globe in which we are working shoulder to shoulder in the military. In the states, there are opportunities for Dutch to be trained as well as opportunities for Dutch to be trained by Americans here in Europe."
However, the partnership extends beyond the battlefield.
"I came to Belgium to listen and to learn from an important partner," said Gutman. "All of us have much to learn from each other."
In the past six months, the ambassador has traveled around the small country meeting the Belgian people and learning the Belgian culture and traditions.
"Just when I think I've had my best experience, I do something equally magical," said Gutman. "I thought it was traveling to Ypres to witness the Armistice Day celebrations, but then I saw the living partnership between the Belgian people and the United States during the commemorations of the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne in December.
"Undoubtedly, the diversity of the people I have met and from each of whom I learn is one of the qualities of Belgium that I like the most," he said.
Levin, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from The Netherlands, said that those stationed in the Benelux should take advantage of the "almost infinite opportunities for cultural involvement.
"Every town has a jewel of a museum or a historical place. The countryside is quite breathtaking and many many cities have unique historical significance, both with military events and of course World War II but going much earlier than that to medieval times," she said. "There are many old cities that are fascinating to visit."
Gutman added that while living abroad, Soldiers, civilians and family members should work to become better neighbors with their host nations.
"How we talk with and laugh with our friends in Belgium will form the opinion of the United States," he said. "And when we e-mail our friends and family back home, it will be our collection of stories about Belgium and our friends here that forms the second part of that bond of partnership."