Sunday, May 22, 2011

Drafted into the army -- not so far in the past

So my boyfriend, who admittedly doesn't even read my blog but hears about it from Mike (his cousin's boyfriend), told me I need to update this.  Ironically, it is probably chatting with him at 1 a.m. my time --6 p.m. his time-- that has kept me away from blogging the past week.

So let me catch you up.
We visited a U.S. Army base in Wiesbaden, Germany (a city near Mainz.)  It was a casing of the colors ceremony for the first armored division, Old Ironsides.  They are relocating to Texas. Even though we had been in Germany just a little over a week, it was a relief to be surrounded with American flags and so many people with pride for America.  But, the most inspiring part of the trip was having one of our German classmates with us.
While we were happy to embrace the singing of the U.S. national anthem and bowing our head in prayer, he was telling us the difference in serving in the German military.  Just this year, 2011, the draft was abolished in Germany. Up until now, every man had to serve two years either in the army or doing civil service such as in a hospital. He chose to work in a hospital, he told me. He moved off for two years to do so. I was surprised to hear this because coming from a background of U.S. history classes I just assumed most modern countries didn't have a draft. The U.S. draft ended in 1973, long before I was born and even before my dad could be drafted. It was mind boggling to think other students, my age, here in Germany were still being drafted as recent as last year.
My German classmate also commented on the pride he saw of us Americans for those serving in the Army. He, and other Germans I discussed the matter with later that day, said most Germans don't look at soldiers as a romanticized thing as we do. I think it comes down to how Americans in general are very patriotic and proud of our country. Linda, my host, told me that if someone were to say "I'm proud to be German" people might look at them like, "Okay you Nazi!"  The history of German is a lot older than that of the U.S. and their history of war is different as well.  In class discussions, our German classmates repeatedly say how many Germans are reluctant to go to war and to call anything a war. For the one who visited the air base with us, it was one of the first times he had experienced being around a group of military and everyone honoring them.  Another German friend of ours here, Gesche, said that her dad won't wear his military uniform into town.  People here, according to the few Germans I've talked to about the military, don't respect men in uniform as we do back home.
And, I don't know this, but I get the feeling that many look down upon Americans for being patriotic. I'm not sure if being proud of your country is seen in a negative light or for what reason it would be, but I don't think too many people here fully understand, "I am proud to be an American." Nevertheless, I am quite proud of my country. Proud to have grown up there and proud of any progress we've made.  Being proud of American  is being proud of our service men and those who give up their time, their families and their lives to protect us by any means necessary.  My grandfather and father served in the military and I am nothing but proud of them and their strength and bravery to do all that they did. I was born on a Navy base in Pensacola, Florida while my dad was still serving so maybe pride for the U.S. military has been instilled in me since then. 

Anyway, in addition to learning of so many differences between the relationship of German military with civilians and American military with civilians, we had a lot of fun touring the machinery displayed at the ceremony.

We met pilots from Colorado and Hawaii. They weren't from the 1st Armored Division, Old Ironsides, but just came to showcase the different military helicopters and rides.
We could have climbed up on this, BUT we didn't chance looking like totally idiots in public.
 We arrived early so we had plenty of time to look around and take photos before the ceremony started. This was the first time Hannah, Christina or our German classmate had ever been on an army base. One of my great friends, Mathew McGaugh, is in the military and I've been lucky enough to visit him on base twice -- once when he graduated from basic years ago and again on one of his family days. I love going on bases. The commissaries have all kinds of of stuff to buy and you don't have to pay taxes :) Hopefully one day I'll get to visit the base I was born at.
The reason we were at this ceremony was to observe the public affairs officers jobs to organize and control the event. Afterwards, we listened in on a press meeting where the "mayor" and "governor" answered the medias questions.  A majority of it was in German, but it was neat to observe.  And, I got this awesome picture where it looks like their "governor" was giving me the thumbs up haha.
This is all of us with Lieutenant Colonel Eric Bloom. He is the Public Affairs officer for all of Europe. He was a very interesting guy and very good at his job from what I hear. He also came to speak to our class the following day.
Here is a recording of all Bloom had to say. He discussed a number of things but mostly embedded journalist in military units who are trying to cover war.  Of course, he had the military's side of things. We had other speakers the following days giving us their side.  Bloom is very well known. According to, he was the PA officer to release official charges against Bradley Manning, the soldier responsible for leaking thousands of secret military documents to WikiLeaks.


Also at the Casing of Colors event we met Captain John Paul Rebello, also in public affairs. 

He later invited us to a meal at his place. He cooked steak, noodles, salad, bread.. it was AMAZING! It was also the first time I have EVER eaten any meat that was red. I was so nervous to take the first bite but it was delicious. It was quite honestly the best steak I have ever tasted in my entire life. I wish I knew the seasoning he used so I could tell you what it tasted like, but if you know me then you know I had no part in the cooking of the food!
We also went to a Greek restaurant out of town later on with him and some of his friends. Below is a water fountain/statue right beside our table. (We ate outside.  Most of the restaurants here have outside venues. Everyone wants to eat outside in the nice weather here.)
J.P. is into photography and he took this picture of the rose vines with Hannah's camera.
For dinner I had lamb. It was my first time eating it and it was very yummy.  After dinner, we walked down to the Rhine river (literally a minute away.) I took this photo of the moonlight on the river. My camera isn't very good so as you can imagine it was way more beautiful in person.
We didn't stay too long after dinner because Hannah and I needed to get home to finish our first paper that was due the following day. (Of which I made an A on, by the way.) However, we did stay long enough to see a group of fire blowers. It was really neat. It would have been nice to sit by the river and enjoy the nice night, but we are here for a class and as Dr. Arant repeatedly reminds us, "Work comes first."

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