By Spc. Michael Adams, 3rd ID Public AffairsOctober 1, 2010
FORT STEWART, Ga. - The Military Personnel Exchange Program gives nations allied with the United States the opportunity to send a military officer to a U.S. Army unit to learn more about it.
This program was extended to Belgium approximately 30 years ago as an opportunity to train a lone Belgian officer on the American military as an aide-de camp to the four-star military leader who commands North Atlantic Treaty Organization operations as well as the U.S. European Command.
It is necessary for this military leader to have an aide-de camp from the Belgian Army because the SACEUR is stationed at Casteau, Belgium, the location of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.
Major Jeroen Verhaeghe, an officer with the Belgian Army, found out he was going to be selected for the MPEP and assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, while he was attending the Candidate for Field Officer Course in Brussels that all Belgian Army officers attend to attain the rank of major.
"There are huge benefits in knowing other Armies," Maj. Verhaeghe said. "I have never worked with the U.S. Army before; I have never been to the U.S. I liked the idea of living here for two years, being embedded here in the U.S. Army, getting to know the U.S. and the adventure of moving to the other side of the world for two years."
"I think it's a very beneficial program," said Bill North, a senior operations officer with 3rd ID who works with the Belgian officer. "Someone like [Major] Verhaeghe has the opportunity to see how the United States Army works. As you can imagine, there are cultural differences between, not only the countries, but the two Armies as well.
"This allows him to become a better aide-de camp to the SACEUR. When he returns to Belgium, he can also provide that knowledge to the SACEUR as far as customs and courtesies of, not only the Belgian Army, but the country of Belgium itself. I think it adds greatly to the country of Belgium as well as the United States."
Major Verhaeghe, who has deployed to Kosovo twice while stationed in Belgium, saw the opportunity to work in the U.S. Army as a great professional and personal opportunity.
While a part of the program, he will serve at the division level to explore the workings of a division for a year and then move to a brigade the following year where he can be a part of day-to-day operations on that level.
For Maj. Verhaeghe, this is also a chance to continue the history of the Belgian Army. A Belgian infantry battalion served under 3rd ID in the Korean War.
He wears the same brown beret as the Belgian soldiers who fought in that conflict. The name of that battalion was Vrijwilligerskorps voor Korea, which means Volunteers for Korea.
Major Verhaeghe became a part of the Marne legacy when he received his promotion to his current rank, in a ceremony at the Marne Museum on Fort Stewart, Sept. 24.
While he is happy to be selected for promotion, he is more excited about the job responsibilities, though there is one specific aspect that makes him especially proud.
"Being promoted here is part of the big adventure of being here and makes it even better," he said. "Probably less than 10 people in the last 60 years [serving in the Belgian Army] can say that they were promoted while they were serving in the 3rd Infantry Division. I'm sure I'll remember this event for the rest of my life."
As the Division Operations Center officer in charge, Maj. Verhaeghe is responsible for overseeing the center.
He also briefs the rear detachment commanding general three times a week on what is reported to the DOC, to include events that occurred in deployed units and units currently on Fort Stewart.
Major Verhaeghe's comrades have nothing but praise for him since arriving at Fort Stewart a few weeks ago.
"It's an honor to work with him," said Master Sgt. Tony Jefferies, G-3, 3rd ID, who served as the acting DOC OIC before Maj. Verhaeghe took over. "He's very smart and educated. I'm learning from him. I hope I work with him again. Working with a different culture is not something everybody gets a chance to do."
North has nothing but good things to say about his work ethic.
"[He has been] magnificent," he said. "He's done a great job. He hit the ground running. He's able to conquer that steep learning curve. You can imagine going to another country, not only being involved in another culture, but having to speak the language, how difficult that would be, but he has been just truly superior."
There are some big differences between the two Armies Maj. Verhaeghe serves with.
In the Belgian Army, the rank structure is fundamentally different, he said. Belgian soldiers who enter as a private, cannot obtain a noncommissioned officer rank unless they leave the Army, and attempt to re-enter as an NCO, or pass a series of tests while serving as a private.
People off the street can come directly into the junior NCO rank of sergeant. It is very common for privates in the Belgian Army to remain a private their entire military career.
He also discussed some differences between his native Belgium and America.
The longest distance in his nation from one end to the other, according to Maj. Verhaeghe, is about 200 miles.
In order to travel around America, he has to travel longer distances, which is a small adjustment for him, since his country is very compact.
Despite that, he is very happy with his experiences in America so far and plans to visit as much of the U.S. as he can with his wife.
"People have been very friendly and open," he added. "The cost of living is a little lower here, especially for cars, but more importantly life is different, and it's a beautiful country. I'm planning on seeing it as much as I can."