HOHENFELS, Germany — Good pay and the chance to interact with U.S. soldiers on the range draw hundreds of young Germans here for three-week stints as COBs, or civilians on the battlefield.

Alexander Grellmann, of the eastern German city of Leipzig, recently finished three weeks as a role player in a mission rehearsal exercise involving the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

The young university cultural science student said he learned about the role-playing jobs for German civilians through word-of-mouth but he had also seen advertisements in newspapers and on the Internet for people with English-language skills. Grellmann, who served as a private first class with the German army, said he enjoyed being on the range and earning money during university holidays.

Most COBs are from eastern Germany and are eager for work in an economy with high unemployment. The pay — 100 euros a day — was good money, he said.

For the 2nd BCT exercise, Grellmann took on the role of a translator for 2nd Platoon, 1st Military Police Company. German serves as a substitute for Arabic during exercises to get troops used to working with translators, he said.

Most COBs do not have professional acting skills but they have a good time pretending to be different characters, Grellmann said.

“It is not so much acting. But when you are having a big demonstration, the whole crowd gets into it shouting stuff like ‘Yankee go home,’” he said.

The COBs get along well with the soldiers and often share jokes during downtime, Grellmann said.

“Some of the soldiers could be stand-up comedians,” he added.

Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, who play Iraqi insurgents and other roles during exercises at Hohenfels, said the COBs’ biggest complaint is about Army food.

“They hate the American food,” a 1-4 soldier said. “They want their German nonpreservative food. They complain that it (American food) is not as natural as what they eat at home.”

The battalion’s commander, Lt. Col. Timothy Delass, 41, of Rochester, N.Y., said he often found his soldiers chatting and drinking coffee with COBs when he dropped in on them on the range.

“They (soldiers) have a lot more in common with (the university students) than some of the older COBs,” he said.

author picture
Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now