CAMP SPANN, Afghanistan - For one German officer it was a time to say goodbye after a successful six-month tour. For an American general , it was a time to recognize him for his work in a change of command ceremony Dec. 9.
Col. Ralf Kneflowski, co-commander of the Regional Support Command-North at Camp Spann near Mariz-e Shariff, said serving in Afghanistan was a life-changing experience. The other co-commander is American Col. Paul Calbos.
"This country changed me; it made me think and redefine the values guiding me; but it also leaves me satisfied and, above all, grateful - grateful to be able to go home," Kneflowski told the German and American Soldiers in formation in a dark, nighttime change of command ceremony lit by moon and torchlight in front of the camp's flags.
Brig. Gen. John J. McGuiness, deputy commander for Regional Support, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan, awarded Kneflowski the Meritorious Service Medal for his service.
Kneflowski, with nearly 40 years of service, initially started out enlisted in the German Army. By his mid-30s, he attained the rank of lieutenant as he entered the officer corps. "
While here, so many people are beginning to establish what we call "Heimat -- home" in their own culture and peace and a prosperous future ... Eventually, we can say that we were a part of it for a while and achieved a bit. That makes you proud!"
On his American award write-up, Kneflowski was cited for quickly ascertaining what was required, establishing contacts, entities, and directives that served as a model for CSTC-A, along with establishing a Standard Operating Procedure that was enforced. Likewise, he helped build organizational structure by developing new concepts and mission task lists.
Additionally, he served as the primary liaison to Afghan National Security Forces commanders and NTM-A for the north region. And, he was cited as being a critical element to the recent successes there.
Kneflowski was also recognized and decorated by his German comrades with a with a German Meritorious Service Award and a NATO award.
During his absolute from-the-heart speech, he told the story of first learning of going to Afghanistan last April, to his leadership's amazement that he would not be stationed in Kabul, to arriving up north and learning and seeing as much as he could to understand the mission and provide leadership. And then telling how he and the unit planned for and executed Calbos' arrival, forging a dynamic relationship that will last beyond his tour.
"...I thank you for the outstanding cooperation and the unlimited trust in me and the German team members. You always let me know that we were an integral part of the RSC-N, not only the Germans, who are just there," he told Calbos. "I remember thousands of hours, many, many days during which we talked not only about our mission, but about the families, the children and our home as well as about the history on different societies, our hobbies. I show my respect and my tribute. Thank you so much!"
During his remarks, McGuiness thanked the soldiers standing in formation. "I do appreciate what you do each and every day," he said.
After paying tribute to the command team and welcoming the new commander, McGuiness said this to Kneflowski: "You are going to leave here a legacy like no other."
McGuiness also presented an Army Commendation Medal to another German officer, Capt. Rudolf Fabri, for his work in supporting RSC-North. And, he was also part of the actual change of command that saw Col. Gert-Johannes Hagemann assume Kneflowski's responsibilities and accept the unit's colors.
Likewise, Ralf awarded German marksmanship lanyards - Schutzenschnur award -- to 14 U.S. Soldiers for qualifying on German weapons. To earn this award, the Soldiers had to display proficiency on the German service rifle, pistol and machinegun.
After the ceremony several food tables of German delight and beverages were set up in the "kaserne" as steak was being grilled outside by Croatian Soldiers known for their expertise in outdoor cooking.
That night, Kneflowski was beaming in kindness, camaraderie, and genuine friendship with all he came in contact with. He was a man on top of the world.
After the ceremony and just prior to eating, Col. Calbos read a speech that was equally fitting highlighting Ralf's accomplishments and thanking him for his hard work.
Later, a big bonfire warmed everybody in attendance. It was a grand celebration for a dear, trusted friend - Col. Ralf Kneflowski.