By Mark Van Treuren (JMRC Public Affairs)May 5, 2012
PILSEN, CZECH REPUBLIC--The people of Pilsen are not the only ones this weekend honoring the World War Two veterans who liberated this city in 1945.
Mixed into the crowd, taking in all the exhibits, the food and local culture are modern day soldiers from the U.S. Army Europe, the soldiers who carry the torch today, following in the footsteps of the greatest generation from sixty-seven years ago.
The Pilsen Liberation Festival salutes the soldiers who brought peace to this part of the world in 1945 while today the Soldiers, airmen and Marines who serve in Europe are now the military partners of the sons and daughters of the people who were liberated here.
"I don't say that I have earned to right to compare myself with the guys who stormed Omaha beach and climbed up Point Du Hoc. I have not done anything nearly as grand, but I have earned the right to do it right- to follow the rules and be what American soldiers are and expected to be so that seventy years from now [people of other countries] will still hold events commemorating us freeing them and then treating them right," said Second Lieutenant Nikki Martinez, a chemical officer in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team stationed in Bamberg Germany.
She added, "I wanted to be airborne and be in Germany. Being a good American is experiencing something else, so I can say this is what the rest of the world is like."
Today's European based military personnel train regularly with their European partners at the training centers in Germany and many times deploy with those same friends to Afghanistan, Kosovo and other places in the world.
Martinez is getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan and recently took part in a Mission Rehearsal Exercise (MRE), at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels, Germany.
"At our last training event we had six nations training with us. Our training was hugely multinational. It was made very clear to us that we had to help others accomplish their mission, not just accomplish ours. We had Bulgarians and Czechs during the MRE and the Czechs will deploy with us to Afghanistan," she explained.
Sergeant Ben Van Buren is a combat engineer with the 173rd also stationed in Bamberg. He laughed when asked about the US uniforms the many reenactors are wearing.
"We were noticing it and laughing a bit, it's just funny. In some cases, the patches were all wrong but if you tell them something is wrong they will change it. That is kind of cool," said Van Buren
Van Buren added he realized the young Czechs are wearing the uniforms out of respect to the American liberators of Pilsen.
Van Buren is also getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan. He sees a definite connection between the COIN (Counter Insurgency) Operations he will take part in there and the mission to liberate Pilsen in 1945.
"COIN operations in Afghanistan, it's the same thing the soldiers did here in that if you treat people nicely they will give you things. They will treat you right. If you treat people nice they will give you parades they will show how much they appreciate you," said Van Buren
The soldiers of 1945 never used words like COIN and could never envision the people they liberated as military partners in their lifetime. Their hard-fought victories of World War Two have brought them a lifetime of thanks and gratitude. That hard-earned level of respect has been passed on now to their successors , a challenge that Van Buren feels is one that he and his fellow soldiers of today should embrace.
"Get out and see, these celebrations are not just about what is past but what is present, the American soldier is one of the most loved positions in the world," he said.
The nine-year Army noncommissioned Officer expressed great pride in his chance to serve in Europe and follow in the footsteps of the men of liberated Pilsen. He also sees his opportunity to serve in Europe as a small thank you from the American people as well.
"I joined the army to see the world and thank goodness that is what we do, this is a great chance we receive only in the military. McDonald's surely wouldn't send me over here. This is a small payback from the American people for all the deployments and the hardship of being away from the family, this is kind of a little payment the American soldier gets, and being able to share it with our partners from other nations makes it pretty special," said Van Buren.