German soldiers enjoy military training duty in Texas
By TIMOTHY McNULTY
(reprinted in the San Jose Mercury News 12-4-77, p. 19)
EL PASO, Tex. At least once a week a Luftwaffe 707 loaded with uniforms, newspapers, sports films, and beer touches down at El Paso. It's bringing a little bit of home to lonely soldiers stationed on foreign soil.
The foreign soil, of course, is the United States. And home to the officers and enlisted men in this elite contingent is some 7,000 miles away back on the streets Berlin, Cologne, and Frankfurt.
The plane, a military Iron Cross painted on its tail, belongs to the German Air Force. After making an intermediate stop for diplomats in Washington, D.C., it continues on its supply run to El Paso bringing news and boosting morale for the largest troop of foreign soldiers stationed in the U.S.
They are part of a little reported aspect of America's military agreements with allied countries to provide expertise and training for foreign, but friendly, armies.
The German Air Defense School based along the sandy desert roads of rambling Fort Bliss is perhaps the prime example of that cooperation.
"Foreigners usually have a hard time making friends in a big city," said Capt. Bernt Koetter. "But for all the married men living off base we have no special German area. Everyone looks for their own house or apartment so they are in the middle of the American community."
Koetter, a trim, blond-haired officer who has lived at El Paso nearly three years, said cultural education into American life is learned along with technical training in Nike and Hawk missiles which are part of the NATO defense in Europe.
With nearly 1,000 officers and enlisted men and about 1,500 dependents, the Germans move freely in El Paso society. And even the former mayor of the town admitted the relatively well-paid soldiers contribute $8 to $10 million a year to the local economy.
"It's very good for the U.S," said Mrs. Georgina Calvano, a civilian secretary who works for the Luffwaffe. "The technical repairmen are all civilians and the military wives and dependents are not permitted to work so they don't take away any jobs from local people."
The German soldiers also have a singing group that performs at civic functions and old age homes and the school has become a regular participant in German Day.
The West German government picks up the entire tab, several million dollars, for the soldiers' housing, training, and equipment.
Ironically, the German barracks are only a short distance from the now torn down German prisoner-of-war camp on base. And a block from the German commandant's office a captured V-2 rocket still stands as a monument to the Allied victory during World War II.
Although there are 16 other groups of allied troops, including the Japanese and Kuwaitis, on base, the Germans are the major presence.