2009 Europe Report
Memorandum of Official Tour of Europe by VFW National Jr Vice Commander-in-Chief Richard DeNoyer.
Shared by: WIVFW
MEMORANDUM TO: Commander-in-Chief; National Officers; National Council of Administration; Department Commanders; Department Adjutants; Past Commanders-in-Chief Richard DeNoyer, Junior Vice Commander-in-Chief September 20 – 29, 2009 Europe – Trip Report FROM: DATE: SUBJECT: BACKGROUND On September 20, 2009, I departed the United States with Robert E. Wallace, Assistant Adjutant General and Executive Director VFW Washington Office on a fact finding mission to NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium and to visit and be briefed by U.S. Forces in Germany in order to gain firsthand knowledge of the mission and concerns of our military personnel. We returned to the United States on September 29, 2009. BELGIUM We arrived in Brussels on the morning of Monday, September 21, and spent the entire afternoon and into the evening meeting with U.S. military and civilian personnel at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Headquarters. We were briefed and discussed in detail the role and mission of NATO with senior officials of the U.S. Mission to NATO. Our first meeting was with Vice Admiral William D. Sullivan, U.S. Navy, United States Delegation to the NATO Military Committee who gave us a brief on U.S. and NATO challenges in the theatre of operations. The NATO alliance is comprised of 26 nations and the number one priority for the U.S. Mission is Afghanistan. The issue is the way forward. The day we were visiting the Washington Post ran a story on the plan General McChrystal, Commander U.S. Forces in Afghanistan has submitted to the President and Secretary of Defense. No one we met with acknowledged having seen the plan only what had been printed in the Post. We came away from our briefings and dialogue with an understanding that the way forward in Afghanistan was for more NATO nations contributing additional troops and resources for the many operations necessary along with a strong humanitarian push to gain the support and confidence of the Europe – Trip Report, Page 2 Afghanistan people. The rule of law is pretty much nonexistent in Afghanistan and the educational level of the general population is very low which makes the situation very difficult. The economic situation must be improved to give the local people an alternative to the current situation. Another major issue being closely watched by NATO is the evolving European Union and what exactly it will look like. Started as an economic tool the EU is evolving and the EU will now have a defense agency to protect it internally with NATO remaining as the main Security Force. The EU will probably end up like a group of States comprised of the member nations with an elected President. The question of NATO enlargement, missle defense, and what the U.S. Armed Forces footprint in Europe should be were all discussed. For additional information on NATO please check www.nato.int and on the European Union’s official website http://europa.eu/. Early the following day we traveled to Germany. GERMANY We arrived in Stutgartt, Germany on, Tuesday, September 22, and were met by Ron Robinson, VFW Department of Europe Junior Vice Commander, and Amber Putnam, VFW Department of Europe District 1 Commander, who provided our transportation and escorted us our entire time in Germany. We were driven to our hotel in Stutgartt and after checking in we were on our way to briefings at European Command and African Command. At European Command we met with Major General Schafer, U.S. Air Force, EUCOM Chief of Staff, and discussed the mission and Afghanistan. Many of EUCOM’s forces have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. EUCOM’s overall mission is to maintain ready forces to conduct the full range of operations unilaterally or in concert with coalition partners; enhance transatlantic security through support of NATO; promote regional stability; counter terrorism; and advance U.S. interests in their Area of Responsibility. We then traveled to AFRICOM headquarters to meet and be briefed by civilian personnel as the top military leadership were attending meetings at other European locations. AFRICOM was established in October 2007 and during our meeting we discussed their mission and challenges. One of their biggest challenges is to educate the U.S. Congress, the American people, and other nations on AFRICOM’s mission, and countering misinformation. The African Union is embracing AFRICOM and welcomes its help. AFRICOM’s military and civilian staff are working closely with African nations and organizations, U.S. agencies and the international community to promote security and prevent conflict in support of U.S. foreign policy in Africa. Europe – Trip Report, Page 3 AFRICOM is prepared to respond to requests for support from African nations and from other U.S. government agencies by providing humanitarian or crisis response options. Joint military training is one of the ways in which the command has gained respect from various African nations. For more information on EUCOM and AFRICOM check www.eucom.mil/ and www.africom.mil/. The following day, Wednesday, September 23, we traveled to Ramstein U.S. Air Force Base where we were housed for three nights while we visited military commands and facilities in the area. Our first meeting was lunch with VFW members from the base at the Flying Pig Restaurant. Ten VFW members of the Air Force discussed their mission and concerns. All were very aware and appreciative of the VFW’s hard work on the passage of the Post 911 GI Bill. We were given a tour of Ramstein and visited enlisted housing areas, to include a dormitory (barracks) where single E1-E3 personnel are housed as well as family quarters. The facilities were very nice and a major step forward from when I served. The vast improvement in quality of life enhancements, I was pleased to say, were made possible with the leadership and assistance of the VFW in the Halls of Congress. Our next stop was a visit and briefing at the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility where they have responsibility for all the ground transportation of patients to and from the war theatre to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and then medical evacuation to the States if necessary. While at the facility we visited the USO there and found a need for calling cards which we have passed on to the Department of Europe VFW leadership. In the evening we had dinner with Air Force personnel and our VFW escorts. On Thursday, September 24, we started our day with an office call on BG McQuistion, U.S. Army, CG of 21st Theatre Sustainment Command. After the office call, we received a full command briefing from Colonel Bob Gagnon, U.S. Army. The command’s mission is to move personnel, supplies and equipment, when necessary, in the theatre of operations. They support EUCOM and AFRICOM and NATO. For more information on the command check www.21tsc.army.mil/. We lunched with eight U.S. Army troops in their dining facility and discussed a number of issues. Operation tempo continues to be in the forefront for U.S. service members. We next had the opportunity to visit and tour the Landstuhl Fisher House, located adjacent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC). The house provides a place to stay, at no charge, for family members of patients in LRMC. We then visited wounded U.S. and Coalition forces in Landstul Regional Medical Center (LRMC) in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and surgical unit. LRMC is the primary U.S. medical treatment facility for casualties of U.S. operations within Europe, Southwest Asia and the Middle East. A number of Europe – Trip Report, Page 4 the wounded we were able to visit with suffered Traumatic Brain Injuries. The morale of the wounded was very high as was the morale of the medical center staff. All of the wounded we met were gung ho and wanted to get back to their units in the fight. During our visit, the Nursing Staff on the Surgical Unit presented me with a quilt the same as is given to all of the wounded patients. The quilts are made by a support group in the U.S. and sent to the medical center for distribution. During our visit we were able to meet with the VA representative to LRMC and tour the Chaplain’s locker where every patient receives a gym bag full of needed personal items, sweat suits, etc. The gym bags have the VFW emblem on them and say “Support Our Troops”. The bags are provided from a MAP Grant. We then visited the main USO located on the medical center grounds where we were briefed by staff. Following our briefing we had the opportunity to attend a VFW weekly sponsored event called Guard Night at the Medical Transition Unit located at LRMC. This unit houses wounded, sick, and injured warriors who are not in need of inpatient hospital care. Following medical treatment at LRMC they are either returned to duty or sent to the U.S. for further treatment. The VFW provides a free lite dinner every Thursday for all service members in the unit. The program was originally set up for Guard and Reserve personnel assigned to the unit, but now all military members in the unit are welcome to take part. I had the opportunity to visit with many of them, as well as military volunteers and a number of Military Chaplains as well as with MG. John Ellington, Jr., Director National Guard Bureau Office of the Chaplains. All of the service members and the Chaplains were very complimentary of the VFW for sponsoring this worthwhile program. One of our escorts, Amber Putnam deserves much credit for ensuring the VFW continues this program. That evening we dined with six Senior Air Force Chiefs and discussed quality of life issues. Again, all of the Chiefs thanked VFW for our efforts to pass the new GI Bill. They were especially happy with the transferability option. The following day, Friday, September 25, we started with a full tour of the new Post Exchange Complex on Ramstein and the air terminal which a large number of troops going to Iraq and Afghanistan travel through. Following the tour and after lunch with Air Force personnel, we had an office call with BG Mark Dillon, USAF, Commander 86th Airlift Wing and Kaiserlautern Military Community. The General discussed mission and emphasized the quality of life improvements happening at Ramstein Air Force Base. Later that day we traveled to Baumholer VFW Post #2566 and attended the post meeting. I had the opportunity to address the membership in attendance and spend some time socializing with them. On the morning of September 26, we traveled to Stuttgart and spent time with local VFW members, to include lunch. Europe – Trip Report, Page 5 That evening we had dinner with a number of leaders from the Department of Europe VFW and discussed VFW issues, especially membership opportunities in Europe. We traveled to Heidelberg and lunched with VFW members on Sunday, September 27. On Monday, September 28, we visited U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army Headquarters and were briefed on their mission and the quality of life issues they are undertaking. We also had an office call with MG. Byron Bagby, Chief of Staff. The command has a large misson of security, support of contingency operations in the area of responsibility, training of both U.S. and NATO forces, logistical support for the forces, and a major diplomatic role in working side by side with NATO member nations. U.S. Army Europe has 42,000 soldiers, 65,000 family members, 26,000 civilians at 12 major communities. More information on U.S. Army Europe can be found at www.hqusareur.army.mil/. We returned to the United States on Tuesday, September 29. CONCLUSION This trip allowed us to see firsthand the issues facing NATO and our military forces in the European theater; and to personally meet with many of our military men and women, to hear their concerns and to thank them on behalf of the VFW for their service to the Nation. In all of our meetings with U.S. military personnel we asked questions about the quality of life for our service members and their families. Throughout this trip, I found that the quality of life for our service members and their families is improving every day. The trip allowed us to see firsthand the many new projects for housing, schools, recreation, health, and work facilities that are in progress or that have been recently completed at the installations we visited. The major questions we asked about at all meetings were: What programs and support is there for the families of deployed service members? How does the military treat victims of sexual trauma and what programs are available? What mental health programs are available for service members and their families? Does the command emphasize that it is not a bad thing to admit that you may have symtoms of Post Traumatic Stress as a result of being deployed and the experiences you encountered? We found no hesitancy to answer any of our questions and in many instances they gave us examples of individuals who have benefited from the many programs the military now has in effect. We learned of the many activities for children of service members including a summer jobs program. We felt that all conversations were very frank. Europe – Trip Report, Page 6 In every meeting I told the VFW story to help educate our military men and women about the VFW, the services we provide, and the help we can offer to them and their families. I also stressed the importance of membership and what we as an organization do in Washington DC, to enhance the many programs available for military personnel and their familes, and America’s veterans. Many of those we met with, especially the Senior Enlisted and Officers were very aware of our work on helping to enhance their quality of life programs, especially our work on the GI Bill for the 21st Century. Family concerns and operation tempo are the most prominent issues we came away with. The one thing that was very evident to me is that the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is very respected by the members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The many courtesies extended to us as well as the in depth briefings we had exhibited that respect. The importance of this trip cannot be over emphasized as I believe the knowledge and good will we created by visiting NATO and U.S. military personnel who have been in the fight or will be deployed goes a long way for the future progress by the VFW. Having heard the concerns of our military leaders and the troops who are engaged in OIF and OEF gives our organization the opportunity to speak with authority. I recommend that future Junior Vice Commanders-in-Chief continue this important trip. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I want express my sincere thanks to the staff from the Department of Defense, Department of State, and military services for their assistance in coordinating and the help in planning our trip. My sincere appreciation and admiration to all the soldiers, airmen, family members and military retirees we had the opportunity to meet with for their very candid conversations. These types of formal and informal conversations are very important so we as an organization can remain focused on the issues of greatest concern to them. I want to especially want to thank the VFW Department of Europe for their assistance throughout our travels in Germany. Ron Robinson, Department Junior Vice Commander, and Amber Putnam, District #1 Commander, did a superb job of making sure we were on time for our meetings and made sure we felt at home. I sincerely thank them.