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For decades, Edouard François and his wife, Micheline, have cast a suspicious eye on anyone or anything out of place around Chièvres Air Base near Mons, Belgium. François was recognized last month by the 80th Area Support Group for his contributions to force protection.

For decades, Edouard François and his wife, Micheline, have cast a suspicious eye on anyone or anything out of place around Chièvres Air Base near Mons, Belgium. François was recognized last month by the 80th Area Support Group for his contributions to force protection. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)

BAUFFE, Belgium — The list of honorees to receive force protection citations included a fire chief, policemen, military officers and mayors, all routine enough — except for the farmer.

Some people may have done a double take when they saw Edouard François’ name on a roster that featured a host of folks being recognized by the 80th Area Support Group in Chièvres. But to those who know François and his wife, Micheline, last month’s recognition was no surprise at all.

“He looks out for us, and he doesn’t have to,” said Kim Perino, the force protection program manager for the 80th ASG.

François would argue otherwise, since a section of his farm lies within Chièvres Air Base. The way he sees it, he has no choice but to keep tabs on the base, especially when something suspicious is going on.

“I cannot stop,” François said through an interpreter as he sat at his kitchen table. “It’s a habit. It’s our airfield.”

François is one of about 30 farmers who either own a portion of the land on base or lease it from the Belgian Ministry of Defense. In François’ case, his family owns approximately 25 acres.

It’s a rather unusual arrangement, one that goes back to World War I, when the German army built an airstrip. Today, Chièvres is the only active U.S. base with farm fields, according to the 80th ASG.

As soldiers and airmen go through the daily paces of running the airfield for Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, farmers often can be seen tilling the land. Wheat, corn and sugar beets are among the items they grow.

“We can grow pretty much anything,” said François, who recently retired, “as long as it isn’t higher than 50 centimeters [about 20 inches].”

For years, François served as the head farmer for Bauffe, one of three small communities that border the base. He served as the intermediary between the farmers and various government entities, including the agencies that deal with the U.S. Army, which controls the airfield.

Like other farmers, François keeps a close eye on the area. In the mid-1980s, he reported a suspicious man who wound up being a member of a left-wing terrorist group.

Another time he used a finger to write on his tractor’s dusty dashboard tidbits about a man taking unauthorized photos.

“When you go to a sugar beet field, you don’t always have a pen with you,” he said with a grin.

Over the years, such acts have endeared François and his family to base officials. The certificate of appreciation the Army gave him last month lauded him for his “daily support.”

“Your attention to detail and genuine concern about your American neighbors truly contributes to making Chièvres Air Base a safer and better place to work,” the certificate states.

Perino calls François “a force protection asset.”

“We're incredibly lucky to have him,” she said.

François gets visibly moved at such talk. He believes it is the Belgian people who are fortunate to have an ally like the U.S. military.

“We have a strong admiration for America,” he said. Watching the air base “is our way of thanking them for what they did for us in World War II.”


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