September 22

Five-year rule

Letters index(Click on date to jump ahead)

September 22 Five-year rule Women are fighters Women not weak Unaccompanied tours

September 23 Long trip home Hiring practices Arrest of terrorism suspects

September 24 History Working for AAFES Driving in Germany letter Germany-U.S. relations

September 25 Overseas tours letter Tour plan good idea Employment

September 26 Women in combat Hershey Corp. unsold Servicemembers committed

September 27 ‘Freedom’ response U.S. troops in Germany Government spending Not dainty flowers

September 28 Use of facilities Five-year rule flap ‘Overseas tour’ rebuttal

I’d like to comment on an aspect of the five-year employment rule that I have not seen addressed previously. I really like it, and here’s why: It’s 4:30 a.m. in early April of 1991 in Portland, Ore. The phone rings. “Mr. O’Neill? This is Teresa Eurito of HRO in Naples, Italy. Would you accept the position of ship surveyor in Naples if it was offered to you?” I had been hoping for this call for more than a year, and, of course, I accepted without hesitation. The excitement was tremendous. There were lots of phone calls to friends and family to shout, “We’re going to Italy!” Our tour from July 1991 to July 1994 was one of the main highlights of our lives. Two stepdaughters were in our entourage, and the third one visited while we were there. There were family tours to Corfu, Garmisch and Ramstein, Germany, and official travel for me to Israel, Ireland, Gibraltar, France, Rhodes and so forth. Three years went by in the blink of an eye, and we left thinking, “There was still so much we missed!”

After a year and some months at home in Seattle, that vague itch on the soles of my feet turned into three years in Yokosuka, Japan, as a production controller. We had wonderful neighbors who would come over to tell us that our clothes were hanging outside when it was going to rain. There were the beautiful sights of “Fuji-san” temples, bullet trains, the Hakone Region, the Izu Peninsula, and trips to Guam, Hong Kong, Korea and the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo. Again, three years passed much too quickly and we were once again picking up fresh salmon in Pike Place Market for a Saturday barbecue with family in Seattle.

After another year at the “Parent Command,” SUPSHIP Puget Sound, things were slowing down. So I browsed the Department of Navy Human Resources Web site, and lo and behold, it was looking for surveyors in Naples again. After another “o-dark thirty” call, September of 2000 found Becky and I back in the American Hotel in Agnano and house hunting once again.

The point of all this is that if it weren’t for the five-year rule, I may never have experienced the incredible opportunities that service overseas provides. I know folks in both places who have been in their jobs for more than 20 years. Are they doing good work? Of course they are. The thing is that four or more other families could have benefited from the experience in Europe or Japan and didn’t get to because the billets never opened for them. As for the argument that a lot of money is saved by not having to PCS folks back and forth, it’s “as thin as the soup you’d get if you boiled the shadow of a pigeon that had died of starvation!” (Abraham Lincoln). I’d be real curious to see whether all of that “saved” money has directly benefited any of the commands involved. In fact, when I hear that argument I’m reminded of a “Blondie” cartoon I saw in Stripes some years ago. Blondie walks into the house with her arms full of packages and says to Dagwood, “All the stores were having sales. I saved us $150!” “Great,” Dagwood says. “Show it to me.”

As far as I’m concerned, the five-year rule is a good deal. I’d just like to see it applied more evenhandedly so more folks could take advantage of it.

Dennis E. O’NeillNaples, Italy

Women are fighters

This is in regard to the letter “Women are ill-suited for combat” (Sept. 17). Women have always been fighters. We have had to fight for the right to be recognized as individuals, not the property of our husbands. We have had to fight for the right to vote and for equality in the work place. But I realize these are not combat skills. Fighting for us is instinctual.

Women who have the desire and skill should be allowed to serve their country in whatever capacity for which they are qualified. I’m tired of condescension toward women. Don’t lower the standards for us. There are women in the military today who exceed the present female and male standard. The female standard is a standard imposed on us, not one that we champion. We will rise to meet the standard and be the better for it.

Women are emotionally stronger and more adaptable than men. Women who would choose and qualify for roles in combat would be cognizant of all the dangers. It is society that has trouble viewing women in these roles, i.e. men. If women were allowed in combat and excelled (as we invariably would), men would be threatened. What exactly would their role in society be? They would not be needed as protectors. Women can fend for themselves. We exceed professionally in medicine, architecture, politics and finance. We do all this while raising our children. I guess it’s obvious the only role we need men for.

Jennifer ShaferBaumholder, Germany

Women not weak

This is in reply to the letter “Women ill-suited for combat” (Sept. 17). I could understand the writer being frustrated by claims that all military jobs should be open to women. I can also agree with him that women are physically not matched to men. But the rest of his letter was going overboard. Being a male does not automatically dispose a person to be physically fit. I see quite a few beer bellies at the gym. Not all women are hysterical, and nobody can assume that one sex will handle stress better than the other.

Plenty of civilian jobs exist in which women have the potential to kill or be killed. They’re just not in the military. There are men in the military who are shorter than me and weigh less than me soaking wet. It can’t be assumed that they would handle a job better than me because they are males. As far as psychological aspects go, women by the thousands walk this earth dealing with the trauma of rape or spousal abuse. I would not dare call them weak.

Staff Sgt. Katalin BereczkiSembach Air Base, Germany

Unaccompanied tours

The ongoing debate about the Army’s study of unaccompanied tours for Europe has mainly focused on the negative aspects and the obvious — more time away from families. But no one has considered some of the potential benefits to soldiers, their families and the federal budget.

Currently, many Army soldiers deploy here with their families and then deploy downrange for a multitude of missions. The families are faced with extended periods of time alone in a foreign world, with no family nearby, limited employment opportunities, limited child care and few of the conveniences we find in America. Some military bases are in parts of Europe that are, well, let’s call them “less than ideal tourist spots.” For families living in a stairwell unit, life can be a challenge and sometimes unpleasant.

Here is what the Army’s proposed plan may offer many:

1. An opportunity to set roots for soldiers, their families and their children in a location of their choice.

2. An opportunity for soldiers to use their VA benefits to buy houses for their families and build equity (wealth).

3. An opportunity for stability in schools, churches and communities for their children.

4. An opportunity for their spouses to find long-term, meaningful employment at market wages.

5. An opportunity to have a place we truly call “home.”

I know some of it may appear simplistic. But these are real benefits. Some readers may offer a rebuttal or have a personal benefit of an accompanied tour in Europe. But many people also count the days until the “wake up.”

Here are some of the less tangible benefits:

1. Less wear and tear on our household goods and cars due to shipping.

2. Fewer concerns about leaving or shipping pets.

3. Not having to return home on vacations to see loved ones. Many would be able to drive home on long weekends and could save their leave time for a real vacation in the United States or Europe.

4. Many folks want more opportunities and services for our children.

5. Not being able to buy and travel on the economy because the exchange rate is low.

Leaving our families is difficult, and I too have personally experienced the sadness and trauma. But aren’t many readers doing that now? Aren’t today’s soldiers enduring a fast operations tempo in which they are constantly preparing, deploying or recovering from some operation in a distant land? I’d rather see my spouse and kids in their house, with their things, in their world and not worry about the force protection measure back home or their relative isolation.

As taxpayers, the cost of maintaining our large forces abroad is very high. The cost of a family’s PCS includes airfare, shipping of household goods and vehicles, and as much as a month of productivity on either end of the move. Our large footprint also requires expensive force protection measures and a cadre of personnel. We demand a high quality of life on our bases, and the military must find the resources to meet our expectations.

After World War II, Harry Truman’s Marshall Plan brought political and military stability to Europe. Our presence inspired investment and, I believe, resulted in the peaceful and successful European Union. Ronald Reagan invested heavily in our military, which resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union and an end to the Cold War. Our job in Europe is done. And just like other countries’ occupying forces that have reduced their presence in Germany, so should the United States. Our strategic alliance with Europe doesn’t require the whole family.

I think within our lifetimes we’ll see the return of accompanied tours to other parts of the world where our presence, military power and investment will stabilize the political and economic conditions of a region. Our presence and commitment inspires investment, creates jobs, develops infrastructure and makes the world a better, safer place. That’s what we, the world’s only real superpower, should be doing.

Mike TroyanoKaiserslautern, Germany

September 23

Long trip home

My wife and I recently returned to Germany from a vacation in the United States. We arrived at Frankfurt International Airport after a pleasant six hour and 35 minute flight from Boston. We had made reservations with Flightline Travel Service from Ramstein and prepaid 130 euros to transport us to Frankfurt for our departure flights and pick us up upon our return. Before leaving Ramstein, we verified our flight numbers, date of return to Germany and arrival time of our flight. FTS assured us, as it had done in the past on previous trips, that a driver would be there to meet us when the flight arrived.

We had experienced late pickup service in the past upon our return trips, having to wait between one and two hours for a driver to show up. This time we waited exactly four hours. We arrived at the central meeting point in Terminal One at 6:20 a.m. No FTS representative was to be seen.

After five telephone calls to the central FTS office, we were told the following information: First, they said our flight arrived earlier than expected. The scheduled arrival time was 5:45 a.m. The flight arrived at 5:35 a.m. Second, we were told the driver would be there at 7:30 a.m. Third, fourth and fifth, we were told the driver was on his way and would be there in 30 minutes.

Finally, the driver arrived around 10:15 a.m. He didn’t have our paperwork that showed we were to be picked up, nor that we had prepaid. Two other pickups were on the bus for which the driver had paperwork. Fortunately, the driver trusted us and brought us back to Ramstein. We arrived around 12:35 p.m. That was seven hours after we had landed in Frankfurt — 25 minutes longer than our flight from Boston!

Needless to say, our business with Flightline Travel Service shuttle pickup will be shifted to another shuttle pickup service for future trips. Hopefully, no one else has to experience what we did. On the positive side, FTS does get people to the airport on time to catch their flights. But it seems to leave people stranded on their returns. A little organization on the part of FTS might help, but we’re not willing to take another chance with it.

Rick LewisRamstein Air Base, Germany

Hiring practices

I’d like to comment on the letter “A hornet’s nest” (Sept. 14).

Local nationals in Germany hired by U.S. forces are not paid directly by U.S. forces. They are paid through an agency created by U.S. forces and the German government, the Defense Cost Office. Through this agency, local nationals are in a “Catch-22” situation. They’re not considered German government employees and authorized all the protections and benefits of those employees. Nor can they litigate their grievances directly against U.S. forces. They have to litigate against the Defense Cost Office and the German government. We all know who wins in these situations. But since the employees are legal residents of Germany, they have to pay German taxes, just as the Spanish employees of U.S. forces in Spain have to pay Spanish taxes and the Turkish employees of U.S. forces in Turkey have to pay Turkish taxes.

Germany does have anti-discrimination laws, but they are not as all encompassing as those in the United States.

At least the German unemployment office will accept an application. Has the writer tried to apply for a local national position with U.S. forces? The U.S. forces personnel office will not even accept the application of a “U.S. citizen.” The Status of Forces Agreement says that ordinary residents of a country must be treated as local nationals. But when I, with a legal residence and work permit, tried to apply for a local national position with U.S. forces, my application was not accepted because I’m a U.S. citizen. If I had been (almost) any other nationality, with proper German documentation, my application would have been accepted.

So before we start condemning Germany for condoning and supporting discrimination, we should look at our own U.S. forces that are condoning and supporting discrimination. U.S. forces support and promote discrimination against their own citizens by refusing to consider them for local national positions based on the nationality of “U.S. citizens.”

Wil HicksKindsbach, Germany

Arrest of terrorism suspects

Stars and Stripes’ articles on the arrest of suspects in an alleged plot to attack U.S. Army Europe raise serious questions about the time lapse between the receipt of the tip and action by the German authorities. It has been suggested that the German police placed Osman Petmezci and his fiancée, Astrid Eyzaguirre, under observation to attempt to identify their contacts and determine if they were connected to a terrorist al-Qaida cell. That strategy may have been appropriate, but only if the German authorities had made an early determination that there was no imminent threat to Americans or USAREUR facilities.

The German government has been very vocal about the emergency measures it has put in place to act quickly against possible terrorist threats or any, as yet not identified, supporters of the al-Qaida terrorists who planned and carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Why then, when a possible terrorist action against Americans was reported, did they not act in accordance with those new laws? The raid on the Heidelberg, Germany, shopping center which resulted in the arrest of a barber and an Albanian national at gunpoint took place weeks after the initial tip on Petmezci and certainly appeared to be more of a show for the press. That only resulted in embarrassment to the two men the cops wanted to talk to.

The reports of what was actually found at Petmezci’s apartment have varied substantially as to the weight of the chemicals, pipe bombs or pipe that could be made into a bomb. Major contenders in yesterday’s German national elections have withdrawn comments they made based on what now appears to have been exaggerations by the interior minister on national television. Where were the bomb experts we hear so much about when a World War II bomb is found at a construction site? Petmezci, a beer-drinking non-Muslim who reportedly likes pork and dislikes Jews, hardly fits the profile of an Osama bin Laden cell member. But Petmezci did have the cave dweller’s picture in his apartment. Wow. Strong evidence. But don’t act too fast.

That the police and many other authorities cannot and should not ignore any information that might indicate a threat to the lives of the people in a community or military installation is a no-brainer. But when action is delayed for weeks while a judge decides whether or not to issue a search warrant, there is something wrong with the picture. Has the U.S. military been used to sensationalize a story that may never have been worthy of reporting if a national election were not a few weeks away and the Sept. 11 anniversary only a few days away?

I trust Stars and Stripes will follow up on this incident and eventually give its readers “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey would say.

Robert J. FioreAttorney at lawFrankfurt, Germany

September 24


I offer these comments regarding key concepts we need to remember in the war on terrorism, the fate of the United Nations, appeasement and the Marshall Plan.

The end of the major European wars of the latter part of the 1800s ushered in a time of peace and advancement in culture and industry. What wasn’t public were the secret pacts, secret alliances, secret handshakes and head nods, and double-secret pacts and double crosses. These back-room dealings would lead the world into the “war to end all wars,” World War I. Virtually every country around the world found itself obligated to go to war based on these pacts and agreements, and not necessarily for the advancement of a strategic or economic goal.

World leaders had this in the backs of their minds when they met at the peace table in Versailles in 1919 in an effort to prevent another calamity of great proportions. The predecessor to the United Nations, the League of Nations, passed judgment on the losers in terms of war payments and sanctions. These sanctions, primarily against Germany, led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Hitler was masterful in his manipulation of the League of Nations in his attempts to bring the German people out from the devastating effects of post-war sanctions. Nazi Germany’s “annexation” of Austria and its invasion of most of Europe mocked appeasement and hand slaps by the League of Nations. At the same time, Japan was given appeasement in the form of a large chunk of the Asian continent and most of the Pacific. The future leaders of the post-World War II world took note and incorporated these lessons learned (especially from Versailles and the League of Nations) in the formation of the United Nations and the development of the Marshall Plan.

Unless one is an American living in Europe today, one wouldn’t recognize the impact of the Marshall Plan. It’s not hard to understand why most Germans and Europeans in general don’t want to go to war. Germany has one of the best standards of living and a medical- and social-welfare system that would leave anyone jealous. Germany has evolved in the past 57 years into a society in which the idea of war is a foreign thought. This is the direct result of an insightful American Army general named George C. Marshall. Marshall was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for implementing a plan that rebuilt the societies of the war-torn countries of Europe, particularly Germany, rather than punishing them for another world war. The world had realized the problems with sanctions and appeasement, and Germany was the benefactor.

Since the end of the Persian Gulf War, and in Bosnia and Kosovo, ruthless regimes have again entered secret pacts and alliances (axis of evil) and laughed at the implementation of United Nations resolutions, Security Council resolutions and economic sanctions. These ruthless leaders don’t suffer. Rather, they continue to commit genocide (Slobodan Milosevic in Bosnia and Kosovo), submit their own people to the harsh realities of sanctions, and continue to develop weapons of mass destruction (Saddam Hussein in Iraq) until the world intervenes.

Now is not the time for a debate on the fundamentals of proactive unilateral and reactive multilateral military approaches. It’s perhaps time to recognize an opportunity to re-establish the Marshall Plan in Iraq, as is in progress in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, even initially by forced intervention. As in our own lives, there are times when we must admit that Plan A hasn’t worked (11 years of sanctions and appeasements, i.e. “oil for food”), and Plan B must be implemented for the betterment of a people and the world.

This is perhaps where the divide between Americans and Europeans has developed. Many Europeans have asked me for my thoughts on Iraq and the war on terrorism. I respond — politics, economics, oil and military strategy aside — that most Americans find it hard to stomach that Europeans don’t want to intervene in Iraq. I explain that we have a possibility to implement a Marshall Plan in Iraq. Aid from a Marshall Plan coalition could lift a people up and provide them the means to become another example of a post-war nation that embraces peace and serves as a beacon to the rest of the Middle East. This is really the fundamental point. Is Europe and the rest of the world ready to bite the bullet and make a commitment to helping a nation? Or should we let appeasement, sanctions and history run their course?

Capt. Shawn MonienHohenfels, Germany

Working for AAFES

This is in response to the letter “Hiring situation” (Sept. 12). The writer talked about how great AAFES is and how it’s his bread and butter. But why didn’t he enroll in some of those classes at his finger tips? He said he’s been with AAFES for at least five years and has a close relationship with the Learning Center instructor. After many years with this company as an accounting technician (basic data entry), he has had no motivation or no fire under his feet until now. And now he uses this newfound energy to bash the company that feeds him. I bet he never stopped once to think how the person selected for the position would feel about having a letter published for the military world to read saying that the selectee got a job which the letter writer feels the selectee was not qualified for.

The letter writer should use this newfound energy toward something positive. I’m sure he can find an orphanage or a nonprofit organization like the NAACP to devote his time and energy toward.

J. Brissette MurphyHanau, Germany

Driving in Germany letter

I agree with the writer of the letter “Driving in Germany” (Sept. 18) that it’s great to drive in Germany. I love living in Germany. It’s a wonderful privilege to drive faster than in the United States and engage in high speeds on the autobahns. So what’s the problem? As I’ve driven around this country in the past couple of years, I’ve observed more and more people, both Americans and Germans, who go far beyond the legal and/or courteous limits.

When I received my U.S. Army Europe driver’s license, I was instructed in the rules and regulations for driving in Germany and all over Europe. I was told what the Germans do and do not do. But in actual motor vehicle operation, I’ve observed quite the opposite. So I’d like to ask the letter writer if he has actually driven on the autobahns recently, as he said. I’ve driven on the autobahns and can say from experience that we Americans don’t hold a monopoly on bad driving habits. We simply have adapted to the similar performances and lack of courtesy of those around us.

Mike LamberthVaihingen, Germany

Germany-U.S. relations

I’m pretty upset about the issues German politicians have addressed with the United States. I grew up with Americans and have family in the U.S. I also have friends over here. It hurts me so bad what’s going on between the U.S. and Germany. I don’t agree with what German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said about the U.S. And I surely don’t agree with what German Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelins reportedly said in comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler. What an insult! I don’t know if these people still know who’s our friend or not! I’m sorry for that.

Andreas FissenewertFrankfurt, Germany

September 25

Overseas tours letter

I read with great amusement the letter “Overseas tours” (Sept. 20). To set the record straight, according to the writer the following things are true:

1. Soldiers who applaud unaccompanied tours are “true soldiers.” Those who would leave if this policy is implemented in Europe would not be “true soldiers.”

2. “Transitional discomforts” produce homesickness and crying for mother.

3. Families are a distraction to the Army mission.

4. Domestic violence and illegal drug sales would decrease (cease?) in U.S. Army Europe if there were no spouses or dependents stationed here.

5. A six- to 12-month unaccompanied tour is a minor inconvenience only when a family has traditional family values, a good family readiness plan and a faithful spouse.

6. The people who study this plan before implementation should be radicals with social science degrees or the plan will be destroyed.

7. Recruiters can be trained to screen potential soldiers and families to ensure we get the right type of people. You know, not the wrong kind.

8. Only single female soldiers cannot become pregnant when the Army says they cannot become pregnant.

9. Most countries we assist in peacekeeping missions are ungrateful.

10. All murders occur due to a lack of “some important core values and morals.” Deployments have nothing to do with murders.

11. Society is a fruit tree.

I wish I had met the letter writer 20 years ago when I first entered the military. If I had known that all the answers to the Army were this simple, I would have retired as a general or maybe as God. Or maybe even as, dare I say, a dictator of a small or large country that I could ruthlessly oppress with my narrow-minded, racist, chauvinistic, grudge-holding, arrogant and ethnic-cleansing philosophies. I guess it’s just my liberal fate that I didn’t meet the letter writer.

Clint BrighamBaumholder, Germany

Tour plan good idea

I was not disturbed when I read the story “Army studying unaccompanied tours” (Sept. 6) about Army Secretary Thomas White’s proposal to have Europe become another assignment for unaccompanied tours. I’ve been deployed before for Just Cause in Grenada and Haiti, and for Desert Shield/Desert Storm and Operation Joint Endeavor. They were for 30 days, 60 days, nine months and 12 months. As for me, my heart grows fonder every time I return back to my love ones.

Somewhere between now and 16 years ago, the writer of the letter “Taking away more benefits” (Sept. 17) lost his priorities. World War II was more than 50 years ago. The Berlin Wall came down. I simply believe that our mission is over here. For those who wish to stay and make a home here in Germany, so be it. They should stay. It is each person’s choice to retire in his desired place. The Army will be like the old TV show, “Have Gun, Will Travel.” Those who want to stay on the train can do so.

I’m not picking on anyone. I want to remain unbiased. But the money that would be saved would be given to other agencies like the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force for new face lifts. If only key officials would look around and see some of the rolling equipment stocks and were willing to take note. They would simply take note and identify the equipment that is more than 15 to 20 years old. After all, we are in the 21st century.

I got on the train in the Army in 1963 just before Vietnam. I served my time. But I cannot in all honesty say that I didn’t enjoy all the historical sites. We are in close proximity to all the famous places here in Germany.

Our freedom was fought for, not given to me. Now every time I see the beautiful Statue of Liberty standing out in the cold, waiting for me and other Americans to come home, I shed a tear.

As for the writer saying that if the unaccompanied tour proposal goes forward, the Army will lose another soldier when he hits 20 years, I say don’t wait.

David PerezHanau, Germany


Upon arriving in Germany with my husband, I had no idea what to expect. I was excited and nervous to start our life and my career over again. My husband and I went to the newcomers’ briefings in order to learn what we needed to do to get started. During these briefings, the wives were asked the question, “How many of you plan on having a career while you are here?” I raised my hand and awaited an answer. “It will be difficult” was all I got.

I attended a job opportunities class at Ramstein Air Base to learn about the job market. In this class, I was given a great deal of information about applying for GS and other positions. One of the things I received was a list of action verbs to use when writing my resumé. I was told to use as many of these action verbs as possible in order for the computer to consider me qualified for various positions. I find it hard to accept that a computer is deciding what I am and am not qualified for. I was also given a Web site that contained GS job descriptions and was told to use it to help gear my resumé toward the position I wanted. But I found this difficult to do because there was more than one position I was interested in. Ethically speaking, one’s resumé is supposed to contain one’s skills and abilities, not what others want to hear.

I did construct my resumé and entered it into the government resumé systems and turned it in for nonappropriated funds positions. I was offered two jobs that were nonappropriated fund positions. I turned both down because they wanted me to use my spousal preference and I was not willing to do that for $8 per hour when I hold a college degree. That wage won’t even pay my college loans. My spousal preference is my only trump card, so I have to use it wisely.

I took a resumix class, which is a military resumé class, to make sure my resumé was done properly. In this class, I learned that the resumix system is currently not functional. Therefore, I needed to do my resumé in Microsoft Word and e-mail it to the Continuation of Pay office so it could input my resumé into the system. Why was I not informed of this system problem earlier, and why it is not being fixed? To add insult to injury, I had to wait two weeks to e-mail my resumé in because corrections are only accepted twice a month.

During the classes I took, I was told that getting a job has a lot to do with whom one knows and that volunteering is a great way to network. Volunteering is not a substitute for a job, and it should not be used as a medium through which to get a job. I worked hard to get my college degree and would like to use it. I don’t feel that I should have to settle for a lesser paying job that I would not be happy doing just because we are in Germany. I am a hard-working individual who would be an asset to any position. I am flexible and am willing to do different jobs, but I’m not willing to give up on having a fulfilling career. I deserve a career just as much as the person I came here with. All I want is a decent job with a decent wage.

Jodi SalmiKaiserslautern, Germany

September 26

Women in combat

I’m writing in response to the letter “Women ill-suited for combat” (Sept. 17). While the letter was filled with slanderous comments about women being weak physically, emotionally and cognitively, the writer did not offer support for his opinions. I don’t actively lobby Congress to allow women to serve in military positions reserved for men, but I’m not one to ignore those with ignorant opinions who like to believe that I’m somehow inferior because I’m a woman. That’s the reason I chose to reply to this letter.

First, the issue of strength. The tissue found in a woman’s muscles is the same as the tissue found in a man’s muscles. The tissue will respond and grow in the same way. So if a woman were to train the same way a man trained, there would not be any difference in the ability to develop strength. Yes, the average woman is currently smaller than the average man. This is due to society’s image of a beautiful woman. It has nothing to do with the ability of the human body. For the writer to compare hemophilia with being a woman is insulting. Hemophilia is a genetic defect. Did the letter writer mean to imply that women are defective?

The writer also made the point that being in combat would put women in a position of being killed or having to kill. Every person in the military has that risk, regardless of their military titles or jobs. The writer also overlooked the fact that there are already women policemen and firefighters who put their lives at risk. Some have actually died in the line of duty, as shocking as that may sound to the letter writer.

Women also have served in every war since America has been fighting. They started out as nurses serving in immediate battle areas, and sometimes the enemy attacks buildings marked with big red crosses. Somehow those women were able to protect themselves without any weapons. They had no weapons because the military does not see them as fit to fight. Yet they can treat and heal our wounded while receiving overhead fire.

My favorite quote from the letter writer is, “... or having to make decisions that will jeopardize the lives of fellow soldiers.” Whatever was I doing this morning when I put on my shoes? I forgot I’m supposed to be barefoot. And I better hurry up and get pregnant. According to the letter writer, I’m not capable of decision-making or even cognitive thinking. What else is left for me in life but to have my man’s herd of babies?

The only true reason that it will be a long time before women are allowed into the front lines of combat is because society cannot handle it. The letter writer inadvertently made this point himself when he said, “Women deserve our honor and protection.”

I reiterate my opening paragraph and say again that I’m not a person who actively lobbies for women in combat positions. But I’m very well aware that I’m an American who is fighting to protect the country I serve. Nobody wants to go to war, regardless of sex. But if called, I’d leave without hesitation, knowing that I’m physically, mentally and cognitively capable and ready.

Staff Sgt. Jennifer M. BlackmarrCamp Able Sentry, Macedonia

Hershey Corp. unsold

In a cloud of turmoil, the board of directors and top executives of the Hershey Foods Corp. have balked at the sale of the largest chocolate manufacturer in the United States for an estimated $15 billion for the sole purpose of producing prodigious profits for their shareholders. Instead of selling out, they have chosen to continue with business as usual at the request of the local populous.

So just when we thought the values, ethics and virtues that made our country great were on the verge of collapse, along comes a handful of people from Hershey, Pa., to prove us wrong. One positive step for communal pride, one giant leap for mankind and business practices.

Anyone who has ever visited Hershey certainly remembers two things about this rural community. First is the beauty of the community’s late 19th century architecture scattered throughout the town and its picturesque landscape of green grass and rolling hills. Second is the luscious aroma of chocolate that emanates from the larger-than-life factory that produces the precious commodity sought after by people from around the world.

But enough rhetoric about chocolate-producing companies. This story, and the implied message, is much more immense and important than producing brown-colored candy pleasing to the pallet. It’s about a sense of community — a term and expression in lifestyle that once made our independent counties, states and country the world-renowned role model for all societies to emulate. A sense of community is the result of people within a community network working toward a common goal that is good for all. This also includes taking ownership of the territory within and protecting it at all costs. “All for one and one for all” seems the symbolic phrase of this classic socioeconomic structure. The fact that the Hershey factory employs 14,000 local workers is most certainly a starting point for validation.

Born and raised in a small township similar to Hershey, I can appreciate and relate to communities that genuinely foster good relations between neighbors. The benefits, as readers might expect, are immensely positive. The relatively new military “Neighborhood Watch Programs” are a mirror image of this concept and work because they promote the notion that the sum of all parts is better than the good of one. This literally means that if we take full responsibility for our communities, we can provide both a safe and accommodating environment for all to thrive.

If the successful entrepreneur Milton Hershey were alive today, he’d most certainly feel proud of what he started. He would see how a chapter in the annals of the “me society” which could have resulted in destitution for many changed. It reflects the pride and ownership of a community built from hard work, loyalty and the belief that communities exist for the purpose of supporting one another. This ultimately results in a safe and just sanctuary for local inhabitants. Just think what type of communities corporations like Enron and WorldCom could have produced if they had only envisioned more than independent wealth for their top executives.

Command Sgt. Maj. David A. EddyGrafenwöhr, Germany

Servicemembers committed

The writer of the letter “Freedom” (Sept. 18) expressed his great discontent with the current Bush administration. I would simply like to remind the writer that each person who currently wears a military uniform took an oath, the same oath that the writer took more than 50 years ago. We promised to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That means that I will fight for the writer’s right to express his views even if, as in this case, I disagree with those views. But I also took an oath to “obey the orders of the president of the United States and the officers appointed over me,” and I will do whatever it takes to continue to honor that oath as well.

Perhaps the letter writer can take some of the energy he’s spent focusing on how much things have changed and remember that one thing has not changed: Today’s servicemembers are just as committed to serving our country as those of any other generation. We will live up to the legacy that was earned for us by those who have come before us, as long as we continue to honor our oaths and obligations.

Capt. Scott GibsonGrafenwöhr, Germany

September 27

‘Freedom’ response

This is in response to the letter “Freedom” (Sept. 18). While I won’t debate the writer’s opinions, I must comment on his opening paragraph, which doomed his case from the start.

The writer referred to George W. Bush’s presidency as illegitimate because Bush didn’t win the popular vote and also said the Supreme Court placed Bush in that position. First, the Supreme Court didn’t nominate Bush as president. What it did was stop the numerous recounts after two of them failed to change the outcome. Even the press grudgingly admitted after its own recount that Bush won Florida.

Second, the writer often referred to the Constitution. But if he were to read the whole Constitution, he’d see that the popular vote does not a president make. It’s the Electoral College, which elected Bush fair and square. That makes Bush a fully legitimate president. While some might argue that the popular vote should decide the presidency, our founding fathers wrote the Constitution to elect the president through the Electoral College.

The reasoning for this is that, from the outset, the United States has never been a democracy in which the popular vote reigns supreme. The United States is a republic of independent states joined together for the common good. With the adoption of the Constitution, it became a constitutional-limited republic.

While a state might be a democracy, the government chosen to represent these independent states as a whole is not. Under the very same Constitution to which the letter writer referred, President Bush’s legitimacy is solid.

Again, I will not debate the writer’s opinions on the administration’s actions. He is entitled to his own opinions. But his letter’s opening paragraph underscores his true grievance — his disappointment that Al Gore is not president.

Furthermore, the writer’s suggestion that the lack of a majority of the popular vote makes Bush’s presidency illegitimate highlights the writer’s limited view of the very Constitution he referred to in support of his opinion. So, from the outset, any credibility that the writer might have had when he was speaking on constitutional issues was destroyed.

Scott DaubertHarrogate, England

U.S. troops in Germany

The Army’s controversial study of making Germany an unaccompanied tour of duty might have been overtaken by events.

More than 50 percent of Germans last Sunday voted to retain — or at least not to remove — a chancellor who made disdain for the United States a major element of his campaign. This chancellor also had a minister of justice who likened the president of the United States to Adolf Hitler. In a statement less widely circulated, she also reportedly characterized the American legal system as “lousy.” One U.S. senator has already called for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Germany. He might not be the last.

A defeated and dismembered Germany was not in a position to construct a coherent foreign policy in the first years after World War II. The new Federal Republic of 1949 did not attempt to do so. It was content to provide forward operating bases for the U.S. Army and Air Force, to rebuild its economy behind an American shield, and to construct a massive welfare state. Its armed forces were small, its defense budget dwarfed by government subsidies and welfare payments.

The 1990 reunification appeared to do little to change this. But by late 1998, the Germans had discarded their center-right government in favor of a coalition between the Socialists, who had abandoned the Marxist concept of class warfare only in 1959, and the “Greens,” a small party of radical environmentalists-pacifists whose pacifism did not foreclose violence when it suited their purposes.

German voters have now returned that coalition to power. They did so by a microscopic margin. But even had they rejected it by the same margin, or even a larger one, it’s clear that Cold War geopolitical relationships, quietly rusting away in any event, are gone forever.

Today’s Germany is indifferent, if not actively antagonistic, to American interests. Even Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s challenger, Bavaria Gov. Edmund Stoiber, said that he would, if elected, deny U.S. forces the use of German bases in any conflict with Iraq not sanctioned by the United Nations. He retracted the statement only after his advisers pointed out that the NATO status-of-forces agreement would not permit that.

Germany is a democracy, a fact that requires great respect on our part for the outcome of its electoral process. It is nonetheless precisely for that reason — together, of course, with the loss of interest in the Fulda Gap on the part of the Great Bear of the East — that the issue of whether dependents should come to Germany might be moot. The issue now is whether there should be any U.S. military presence in Germany at all. Germany needs to think seriously about its commitment to NATO. So do we.

Ralph LohmannWiesbaden, Germany

Government spending

Here we go again. The United States government grants $200 million to Turkey and Congress extends another $28 million. President Bush cannot find the money so he can sign the “concurrent receipt” bill, which has been passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives. But he finds money to give away to other countries.

I realize that these countries have bases and other military facilities of U.S. interest. But, once upon a time, I and many others were also of some interest to the U.S. government. But after retirement, the U.S. government no longer cares about us. Wake up and smell the coffee. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Does anyone really expect this money to be paid back? I think not. Beware of false statements, promises, contracts and other mostly political decisions and actions.

José E. Ramos RamosWiesbaden, Germany

Not dainty flowers

Who are the men who think women are ill prepared for combat to judge us? My colleague, Private 1st Class Tyana Franklin, myself and other female servicemembers took the same oath that men did when we came into the military. We also want to defend our country.

It’s men like the writer of the letter “Women are ill-suited for combat” (Sept. 17) who hold us back. No, we aren’t feminists, nor are we little dainty flowers to be treated with fragile care. Yes, there are some women in the military who do want to be treated that way. But there are many of us who don’t. Some of us try twice as hard to be accepted and treated as equals. Some of us are indeed more physically fit and mentally capable than men.

Yes, we can be sensitive and nurturing. But so can men. We also didn’t know that being emotionally caring was an ill-fated weakness held only by women. Women in the military don’t need anybody’s honor or protection. We joined the Army so we could give those things to our country. Men like the letter writer compromise the purpose of our military.

Spc. Mandy SimkinsCamp Bondsteel, Kosovo

September 28

Use of facilities

I’m retired from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years of service. Like many, I have not often had the opportunity to travel overseas since my retirement. I have an older son who has served for about 15 years in the Air Force and is stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. My wife and I finally got the opportunity to visit him and his family in Germany.

At first I wasn’t upset that I was not allowed to utilize the AAFES and commissary facilities. But I became very upset when I learned that German nationals living in their own country who are dependents of German military members who just happen to be assigned duty at U.S. military installations are allowed to utilize these facilities. I find it disgusting that a U.S. veteran who served his country honorably for 20 years is not allowed to use these facilities when they allow those who have little or no connection to our country to do so. I find no justice, concern, consideration or fairness in this policy. I understand why a military retiree would not be allowed to use U.S. military facilities in an area like Bermuda. Tourism is Bermuda’s primary economy. But such is not the case in a country like Germany or others in Europe. When the U.S. government and military say “we take care of our own,” I wonder just what they really mean.

I know about the status of forces agreement. But if our government showed no interest in providing for its own when it made this agreement, then woe is the U.S.

Master Sgt. M. W. Averette (ret.)Port Richey, Fla.

Five-year rule flap

After reading several comments recently on the five-year employment rule for GS civilians, I feel the need to comment. I’m a GS civilian working for the Army in Germany. I’ve already been extended past my initial five-year point, and I’ll explain that in a minute. I was a stateside hire and this is my first GS job, so I don’t have return rights to a stateside position. Here are a few points to consider.

1. If a GS employee working at a stateside post gets selected for an overseas position, he is generally entitled to a full PCS family move.

2. The losing stateside unit cannot refill that position with a permanent hire because that employee has return rights to his old position once he completes his overseas tour. The unit must find a temporary employee to do that job until the overseas person returns or stays past the five-year point. If he stays longer than five years, he loses his return rights.

3. If someone like me returns from overseas without return rights, we go into the priority placement program. This gives people priority over other potential job applicants for filling stateside positions that we are otherwise qualified for. But it also comes with potential problems. If the civilian personnel system cannot find a suitable position in an area where we want to live within a reasonable amount of time, we can be forced to go wherever the Army needs us. Also, if a hiring authority has a position open and has another candidate that it feels is better qualified than me, it is forced to accept me over the other person because I’m priority placement. That’s good for me, but what about the bad attitude that employer is going to have toward me because he didn’t want me?

How did I stay past the five-year point? I asked. My position was advertised and there were no qualified applicants. That allowed me a two-year extension.

If I were working at Fort Bragg, N.C., or Fort Bliss, Texas, or Fort Lewis, Wash., I’d never have to move if I didn’t want to. Why should Germany be any different? It doesn’t benefit the Army or the employee.

Rudy StoneWürzburg, Germany

‘Overseas tour’ rebuttal

I’d like to express my opinion regarding the unaccompanied tour study and the letter “Overseas tours” (Sept. 20).

The only point I agree with is the concept of COHORT units. I served with the first Airborne COHORT unit that was created in 1982. We spent one year at Fort Bragg, N.C. before moving to Vicenza, Italy to serve in the Southern European Task Force. Was the unit a success? Who knows? I do know that a cohesiveness existed that’s still present today. We knew each other as well as we knew members of our own family. When we went to Italy, the Army leased a 747 and moved everyone (soldiers, family members, even pets) at the same time. We made the transition together and were there for each other.

I question the letter writer’s opinions on whining, homesickness, and crying for mother. Everyone, regardless of their strength and devotion to a cause, experiences some sense of loss when making a transition. I think more credit should be given to the maturity of soldiers in today’s Army. They’re perfectly normal if this happens. Everyone needs to be aware that this is normal human behavior and be prepared to provide support and counseling.

I’d also like to know the writer’s grounds for contending that the Fort Bragg, N.C., slayings weren’t related to the GIs’ deployment. I’ve said from the start that they probably were, but for different reasons than the actual deployment. I was at Fort Bragg when the deployments to Desert Shield/Desert Storm occurred. Yes, there was a lot of immoral activity. Many of the spouses left behind tested the waters.

The soldiers assigned to rapid deployment units experience high stress. They’re always under the gun and experience constant deployments and training exercises. This bleeds over into their personal lives and causes domestic problems which aren’t always dealt with properly.

I’ve sat in meetings and heard the negative remarks about someone seeking counseling. This is exactly what many of these GIs see and feel, so they don’t seek out these sources to resolve marital problems or relieve stress. Sometimes we just need a bit of help. I encourage everyone to seek help if they’re in a situation they’re not sure how to handle. Take it from someone who has walked the walk and lost a family for these same bull-headed reasons.

As for so-called “pork barrel” spending, it’s nothing compared to the waste I’ve seen for other reasons. This is a small price to pay to support GIs’ lives outside the military. What would be saved? We’d still need soldiers’ quarters. Soldiers would still need to eat. So we’d still need commissaries or something similar. We’d still have the same maintenance requirements, so the Directorate of Public Works would still be around. About the only thing I see is the schools. And that’s a completely different budget, isn’t it? It wouldn’t save the Army anything. We do have to accommodate family members, but it’s a very small price to pay.

Take their families away and GIs will find other venues to entertain themselves. This would show up in fights, DUIs, public drunkenness, and drug use. We can’t expect everyone to be saints when they have nothing.

And why should everything regarding families be put on the spouses? After all, the soldiers are the ones who raised their hands and took an oath. Family is more than one parent doing everything. And is the “home soil” really the safest place to be? Perhaps we should ask the families of the 3,000 victims of Sept. 11, 2001. No place is safe from terrorism.

I don’t agree with Army Secretary Thomas White. I don’t think this would be beneficial to the Army at all. Everyone from the newest private to the oldest soldier needs some type of support system. Often this is our families who we come home to. And I don’t think we’ll get single females to legally agree to practice reproductive responsibility. And obviously the letter writer has no idea how many recruits entering today’s Army are newly married.

I wouldn’t blame servicemembers if they questioned their desire to stay in the military if something like this were implemented. This is not what many soldiers had envisioned when they signed their names on the dotted line. I also think the Army would become hard pressed to fill its vacancies each year.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d deploy tomorrow if called on and give my life in a heartbeat for my country. But we need to keep in mind that these are human beings who we’re talking about, not some pieces of equipment with no feelings or thoughts.

Master Sgt. Gregory W. BrusewitzHeidelberg, Germany

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