KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany (Dec. 26, 2011) -- On a quiet street on Pulaski Barracks one recent Saturday morning, Michael Broccoli took the most important rites of passage in a teen's life -- learning to drive a car.
Under the watchful eye of a German driving instructor, the 16-year-old practiced driving up and down a stretch of the street in a small green standard transmission car.
Like many American teens at U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern, Broccoli faced a conundrum -- how to get a driver's license while overseas. Under current regulations and the status of forces agreement with Germany, students can't get a license through U.S. Army Europe like their military parents do. Consequently, teens are often forced to fly back to the states for a license or pay a steep fee at a German driving school.
To address that issue, the Installation Management Command Europe and U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern now offer a comprehensive driver's education program.
"We don't get a lot of things over here," said Broccoli, who attends Kaiserslautern High School. "This is one thing that got better."
Launched last summer, Child, Youth & School Services now offers Kaiserslautern Military Community teens four different packages including a theory/driving simulator course, behind the wheel training, a combination of the first two options and a course that allows them to get a German driver's license, said Shay Berchtold, School of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills director.
Back in the States, teens with a valid German driver's license are eligible for a driver's license in 34 states, due to reciprocal agreements with Germany, she said.
While the successful completion of the first three packages will not lead to a USAREUR driver's license, it does fulfill the 50-hour driver education requirement that most stateside agencies require prior to getting a driver's license, Berchtold said.
Families must coordinate directly with their home state licensing bureau to determine the complete requirements for that agency. Many insurance companies will also offer reduced rates to teens who have taken the course, she said.
"We tell all parents to please call your state's department of motor vehicle and insurance company and say this is what the class entails. They should ask the state agency or insurance company how will this benefit my child or help them obtain a driver's license," Berchtold said.
The driver's education course is a direct result of a teen Army Family Action Plan issue several years ago, said Steve Pelletier, the garrison's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation director. AFAP is a grass-roots effort that allows community members to identify and elevate quality-of-life issues to senior Army leadership.
"All the youth in Europe said it was putting them at a disadvantage over their peers back in the states who were getting permits at 15 or 16 years old," Pelletier said. "Our youth were getting their driver's license at 18 or 19 years old on their way to university or college."
For the students like Broccoli, who is pursuing the package that includes the theory and simulator class as well as the behind the wheel time, the opportunity to take the class was amazing.
Broccoli, who is taking the class along with his younger brother Nicholas, said the class and behind the wheel training is helping build a solid base of knowledge for him.
"The simulator is pretty good," he said. "It made me more comfortable when I got behind the wheel. But, I don't think you want me on the streets quite yet."
For Ramstein High School sophomore Kathryn Parish the class has been an eye opener.
"I have been in my car my whole life," she said. "But, when I got behind the wheel of the simulator, I realized I didn't know really how to start the car. This is good preparation. I feel like I am ready to start driving."
Parish said she really enjoys the class.
"There aren't many options (for teens) here in Germany," Parish said. "Doing something like this brings a little piece of America here."
For more information about the class, call Parent Central Services at 0631-3406-4516 or stop by building 2898 on Pulaski Barracks.