Some spouses in-processing with soldiers
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — When Laree Miller arrived from the States, she had lots of questions.
Could she use her stateside automated teller machine card in Germany? Could she get her mother a base pass when she visits from Ohio next month? Did the University of Maryland offer classes on base?
Miller, 20, arrived in Germany with her husband, Pfc. Arthur Miller. The Millers, along with another spouse, Rosita Moura, were about to tour the base with Danna Stone, the community welcome coordinator.
Because this was Miller’s first military assignment, she didn’t realize that most bases don’t handle in-processing this way. Soldiers and spouses don’t usually in-process together.
“I can’t believe it’s not mandatory,” said Miller, who not only is on her first military assignment, but is overseas for the first time. “I can’t imagine doing without it.”
Moura felt the same way.
At their last assignment, Fort Drum, N.Y., her husband, Spc. Carlos Moura, did everything during in-processing. Moura said she was nervous about her family’s first overseas assignment, “but they’ve told me so much more information … than I got before.”
Some day soon, the way the 222nd Base Support Battalion at Baumholder in-processes spouses along with soldiers may be the way they do things across U.S. Army Europe. A USAREUR official confirmed that Gen. B.B. Bell, USAREUR commander, will send out a directive “energizing” bases to start stressing that spouses be included.
At many — if not most — posts across Europe, anxious and disoriented spouses sit and wait while soldiers get processed, spending hours on insurance papers, finance and housing. And that’s the way it was at Baumholder, home to the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade and Division Artillery.
Until last fall.
Last November, Baumholder’s Family Member In-Processing Program started including the spouses, even providing free day care, to allow husbands and wives to not only pore over the paperwork together, but to really start to be part of this large Army community.
The main goal has to be to get soldiers ready to deploy, said Susan Mitchell, Central Processing Facility director.
But she had seen “that we were not focused on the family at all,” said Mitchell, who arrived at Baumholder in 1995. For example, there was a big flaw with soldiers going alone to housing. Spouses don’t just want to see their quarters after the fact, they want to hear the information, Mitchell said.
“The soldier comes back and tells the spouse what he’s heard, and she says, ‘Why didn’t you ask them this?’ ” Stone said.
With the arrival of Brig. Gen. Fred D. Robinson Jr. as assistant division commander and Lt. Col. Todd Buchs, BSB commander, at roughly the same time in 2002, “the stars aligned,” Mitchell said. Robinson and Buchs started by asking what happened during in-processing, from start to finish.
“When we saw the process, our draws dropped,” Buchs said. “We said, ‘This is crazy.’ ”
Buses would dump families behind the In-processing Training Center, arguably the least-inviting corner of what is otherwise one of Europe’s greener Army bases. Exhausted families sat while soldiers started the paperwork.
As for the in-processing, the command had assumed soldiers where taking back all the information to their spouses, “and it was not happening,” Buchs said.
Mitchell said that Buchs and Robinson decided to rethink the process, creating surveys asking families, “What do you wish in-processing would be like?”
The surveys discovered that spouses wanted more information about, among other areas, housing and furnishings, schools and day care and things to do and see near Baumholder.
So last November, the BSB added Stone’s position as greeter to tell them those things and more, then re-invented the process.
The BSB started by changing the drop-off to the Lagerhof Hotel billeting. New arrivals go directly to their hotel after perhaps 36 hours of travel from the States. Moreover, Buchs said, an inviting hotel down a long, tree-lined lane is now their first impression of Baumholder, instead of a parking lot.
At the hotel, the BSB renovated a room where soldiers can have a quick records briefing.
Spouses and kids go to the hotel’s breakfast room, where Stone gives them a brief welcome, a package with a letter of greeting from Buchs and crucial information such as local emergency numbers and exchange and commissary hours. After about 10 minutes, Stone takes them to their rooms.
Activity on the day of arrival is kept to a minimum. The following day, with the BSB providing day care or youth activities, the spouse and soldier go through much of the process together including:
• a welcome and pre-deployment briefing.
• Tricare health insurance briefing.
• general-information briefing.
• Army Community Service briefing.
At midmorning, soldier and spouse split up, with soldiers going to finance while Stone gives spouses an in-depth “icebreaker” orientation, covering nearly every element of base life from how-to tips on telephone service to how the USAREUR driver’s license testing works and where to get a job.
At noon, couples can meet and go to housing, or spouses can go to ACS for more predeployment assistance.
But spouses get the most detailed idea of what their new lives are going to be like from Stone’s icebreaker.
The answers to Miller’s questions turn out to be:
• Yes, she can use her ATM card in Europe. But, Stone adds, she’ll have to notify bank employees that they’re going to see transactions in Germany and other places in Europe. Most banks, she warns, have systems to look for unusual purchase patterns as a way to keep thieves from using cards. “You have to educate your bank,” Stone tells Miller.
• Yes, her mother can get a base access card, but must show her airline tickets so Pass and ID section personnel will know when she’s left the country.
• Yes, the University of Maryland offers classes at Baumholder.
As USAREUR gets ready to adopt the Baumholder in-processing methods, Mitchell and Stone are getting calls from bases all over Europe, asking how they do it.
What it boils down to is making sure soldiers and their families get a community greeting before they pass on to their units, Buchs said, “and that’s really bringing families in and treating them the right way.”