September 8

Wives, girlfriends brave, too

Letters index(Click on date to jump ahead)

September 8 Wives, girlfriends brave, too Employment letter Surgery clinic thanksSeptember 9 Heroines in Heidelberg Vehicle purchaseSeptember 10 Unaccompanied tours Adding to family stress Take a look at the Navy School class sizes A piece of the cake Thanks for saying itSeptember 11 A tragic day remembered How 9-11 changed a life Enough unaccompanied tours Family discriminationSeptember 12 Might as well be a bull's-eye Growing up overseas a joy Hiring situation License policy 'crippling'September 13 A painful experience Provide support for all troops Teen smoking Focus on care, not separation Disrespect for flag Cigarette prices

September 14 Soldiers deserve better Some five-year rule questions Army being belittled A hornet's nest

I’m writing to express my sincerest appreciation to all the wonderful men who protect our country. They have taken on a job that most of us aren’t brave enough to handle. Thanks. But I do want to let them know that the Marines aren’t the only ones who are brave. A lot of them have girlfriends and wives back home. And their jobs, while they may not be life-threatening, are just as difficult. I know this for a fact, because I’m one of them. In the most romantic sense of the word, I belong to a Marine. He may not be the most debonair or articulate of men, but I love him nonetheless.

At night when I lay down, I wish with all my heart for nothing more than to be able to feel his arms around me. My dreams reveal to me my deepest fears in startling reality. I tried to watch the movie “Windtalkers” the other day. About 10 minutes into the movie, a Marine was shot on the field. They showed his helmet rolling away with a picture of his girl in it. I couldn’t help but wonder if someday somebody would find a helmet with my picture. I turned the movie off. I couldn’t stand to watch any more. A lot of the movie may have been a massive fabrication to make Nicholas Cage a bigger hero, but it was too real for me.

Every day, the news tells about more and more problems in the Middle East and how President Bush is trying to control the situation. But there are still servicemembers being caught in the line of fire and killed senselessly. My Marine is still in school and stationed safely Stateside. But his classes are done in November, and he will eventually be sent overseas for at least six months. And I’m expected to “sit here and keep the home fires burning.” How? How am I supposed to handle my home and family when the man I love is God knows where doing God knows what to protect his country? There will be sleepless nights. I could be going days, weeks or even months without a word of comfort.

Now don’t get me wrong. I thank God every day that there are men willing to risk their lives doing what they do. And I’m supremely proud that I have one of those men to call my own. But it’s a difficult life to lead. I pray that every man who has a woman at home lets her know that he loves her and appreciates her. He won’t know how valuable she is until he tries to replace her. These men’s girls are strong and stubborn. We have to be to deal with them. But we will not be taken for granted. If they love us, tell us. If they want us forever, marry us. If they think they’ve found something better, let us go. Believe me, we don’t have the time or patience for games. If their girls need a little reassurance (and we all do from time to time), give them some.

If any soldiers happen to read this, please pass it on to a friend who may have a girl back home. Even the smartest of men don’t always know what it is exactly that they’re leaving behind. Hopefully, this will make them realize it.

Paula CorleyCleveland, Texas

Employment letter

I just thought I’d insert my two cents’ worth concerning the rambling letter “Five-year rule” (Aug. 27). Actually, the letter was quite interesting. As near as I can figure, the letter was about one-third fiction, one-third which I do not have the information to verify one way or the other, and one-third nailing the nail right on the head about as flushly as possible. Let’s examine these tasty pieces of the writer’s pie.

Regarding the realm of fiction, fantasy, or whatever else one may attribute to false information, the writer played the overused race card and asserted that “any position of responsibility in senior or midlevel management is held by a white.” This is simply not possible in any organization of appreciable size in European civil service. Further, his claim that the “majority” of people in headquarters are “former military buddies” is surely exaggerated as well.

Ditto for the raving about “Southern white males” occupying every position of responsibility “previously held by minorities.” If one is to place any credence in the writer’s claim of institutional racism in the upper ranks, especially in the last 20 years, then it’s really impossible for this to have occurred since no minority would have ever held such a position in the first place.

In my mind, all these kinds of arguments seriously tarnish the percentages the writer laid out regarding white executives versus nonwhites in the European theater. That is an area I can’t be sure about because I don’t have access to that information. But from the area I am familiar with, I can say that the writer’s “facts” regarding racial discrimination are not in order. But to be fair, the writer did make some interesting observations that I believe are right on the money and should give rise to concern.

Many “little” people who were more competent than their supervisors have been involuntarily relocated to the United States. Supervisors have held and continue to hold the five-year rule over the heads of excellent employees, some for purely personal reasons. I myself have been in this situation.

There are good old boy networks in Germany, and they’ve probably been around for decades. Even a few good old girl networks have emerged. Fair is fair. I don’t think that it’s happened to the extent that the writer thinks, but I could be wrong. However, I prefer to believe that most men and women in positions of genuine executive management in U.S. Army Europe and U.S. Air Forces in Europe do their jobs fairly well, or try to. That doesn’t detract from the reality that none is indispensable or that, as the writer correctly pointed out, many of these approving authorities have been here more than five years themselves. Try more than 25 years in some cases.

Perhaps the worst part is that many of these supervisors are simply ordinary, midlevel managers who are not, by any stretch of the imagination, exceptionally well-qualified. And they are by no means irreplaceable. That begs the question of whether cronyism is at play.

“Cronyism” is a strong word in my opinion, and I think it does factor in to some extent. But in most cases, I suspect those extended again and again aren’t movie-going, golf-playing buddies with their bosses, or even former comrades in arms. But for whatever reason – the need for a boss to feel powerful or vengeful, brown-nosing (my polite term for it), or maybe a boss wanting to stick with the status quo so he doesn’t have to work harder – there are in fact many not especially laudable reasons why certain employees can get extensions and others can’t.

I suspect that I get just as upset and downright sick as the letter writer does at how these extensions are used and held over many people. But I don’t trot out statistics and racial charges that are unsupportable to make my point. On the other hand, I don’t support some of the letters that have disparaged the writer either. The writer did make a few excellent points that should concern every U.S. civilian employee in Europe. It’s a terrible system that should change.

Maj. David B. Hamilton (Ret.)Heidelberg, Germany

Surgery clinic thanks

I truly want to show love to a very special group of people working at the Aviano hospital in Italy. Being on the planet for more than 50 years, I needed the unique hospital experience of flexible sigmoidoscopy. It has become a ritual at least every two years, even when the doctors recommended the procedure be taken more often.

Dr. Isune interviewed me when setting up this appointment. Besides being responsible for the personnel involved with this procedure, he was professional, confident, upbeat and completely on the level with friendship and brotherly love.

I recently made the appointment and had the procedure completed. I was admitted along with a 20-year-old soldier known to me only as a member of the Triple Nickel. Eavesdropping is always faulty because one can’t get all the information. Nevertheless, I monitored a conversation going on with nurses behind a curtain in the same room. I was extremely impressed by their professional behavior and the concern they showed for their patient. The attitude of these two professionals made the patient calm with joy and laughter. The nurses showed the kind of love and security one would expect only from close family members. Lt. Steve Rigg and Master Sgt. Heather Krell are the two professionals I’m referring to. I remember them because of the positive approach and attitude they displayed on the job.

I also experienced a brief 10-minute conversation with the anesthesiologist and two other doctors just before waking up in the recovery room some time later. My experience with the personnel doing this life-saving procedure in my opinion had to be the best in the world. I think they are the best there is. It couldn’t get any better than them.

I extend my sincere appreciation and thanks to the entire staff of the General Surgery Clinic, but especially to Dr. Isune, Lt. Rigg and Master Sgt. Krell for their support and supervision of my mental preparation. Their unselfish giving of time, energy, and boundless enthusiasm helped make this situation a great, memorable and life-saving experience, one my wife Giovanna and I shall always remember.

Again, thanks for being there for us. In my opinion, they’re “above the rest.”

Alfred MeyersVicenza, Italy

September 9

Heroines in Heidelberg

On the afternoon of Aug. 27, I witnessed a heartening display of competency. In the women’s locker room at the Fitness Center on Campbell Barracks in Heidelberg, Germany, a soldier called out to a sergeant for assistance. The soldier was in a shower stall and called out to the sergeant that she didn’t feel well. Without hesitation, the sergeant was in motion and told the soldier to open the shower stall door. The soldier said that she could not, that she felt too weak. Within seconds of her plea for help, the soldier passed out in the shower stall. There were no screams of hysteria from the sergeant. Instead, in the fashion of a true hero, Staff Sgt. Kelly Diggs immediately vaulted over the top of the shower stall door to render aid to the fallen soldier.

With the assistance of a couple of other soldiers, who calmly but quickly appeared to assist the sergeant, the unconscious victim was moved from the shower stall to the locker room. A directive to call an ambulance was given and unquestionably followed. As the slowly reviving victim was placed prone atop towels on the floor, the sergeant continually spoke to her in soft, soothing, even tones, telling her that everything was all right. The sergeant also told the victim that they were going to elevate her feet on her gym bag while others put on more of the victim’s clothes for her.

The victim was asked who she was and where she was. The victim’s consciousness had returned to the extent that she could mutter the answers to those queries. Without any trace of recrimination, the victim was also asked if she were on any sort of special diet and the last time she had eaten and what she ate. Water was called for by one of the attending soldiers and quickly appeared, which helped in the process of revival.

Forethought was displayed regarding the ailing victim’s identification card for transport and admittance to the hospital. Her ID card was immediately retrieved from her car. A call went out asking if everyone was dressed, and I was touched that there was consideration for those in various degrees of undress in the face of an emergency that would bring an ambulance team thundering onto the scene.

In spite of all the tragedies that have recently besieged Americans, until now I have never felt such pride in those who are trained in the “Army of one.” They obviously know how to link together to form a chain of strength, knowledge and compassion, which lends itself to calmness and competence when faced with a calamity. I thank the soldiers for their readiness.

Clarisse Goethe-MensahHeidelberg, Germany

Vehicle purchase

I entered into a contract with Overseas Military Sales Corp. last Jan. 31. This corporation also goes by the name Exchange New Car Sales and Military Car Sales. Since receiving a brand-new 2001 Ford Escape on Feb. 22, this supposedly new vehicle has been in the repair shop nine times for correction, defective workmanship, repair of repair and just plain poor craftsmanship. This corporation conducts itself improperly and operates under less than favorable conditions. This has become a very sensitive, aggravating, demoralizing, emotional and financial issue for my family. We have exhausted all internal means of having these problems rectified, but to no avail. We’ve found it increasingly difficult and almost impossible to even obtain a lawyer because of being stationed overseas. I’ve tried working this out with OMSC, but have been given nothing short of the runaround for the past five months.

The vehicle we purchased was not as promised. A Ziebart coating was not applied as paid for. The vehicle has extensive interior and exterior rust. It has stalled numerous times. It’s unsafe and dangerous for my family. Numerous attempts by this corporation to repair the vehicle have not rectified the situation. I’ve expressed my concerns and reported these incidents to OMSC, but nothing has been done to replace the vehicle or refund my money. We were finally compensated by OMSC for the cost of a Ziebart application after we insisted, and three months later.

How can this corporation continue to conduct business as it does? How many other military members have been treated this way? How many spouses and families have had to endure trying to get OMSC to provide quality vehicles and after-market service while their loved ones were or are away on deployment in the war on terror? What a burden to put a military family through.

Pauline P. CruzNAS Sigonella, Sicily

September 10

Unaccompanied tours

I just read the story about the Army’s proposed personnel changes, and I am glad that I am not a retention noncommissioned officer. Their job was tough enough, but now it is about to get even more so.

I joined the Army in the summer of 1995, and in those short years I have seen quite a few changes brought in. From new manuals and regulations to new physical fitness uniforms and head gear. So be it, times change. But I can tell you that this proposed change toward unaccompanied tours that Army Secretary Thomas White announced is unbelievable.

Who on earth would think something like this is for the good of the Army? The old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it,” should be ringing in some heads. Part of being in the Army is the constant personnel changes. New ones in and old ones out. Don’t centralized promotion boards look for the “well-rounded” soldiers to promote? How are you going to be well-rounded if you change duty stations only a few times?

This plan also would have an enormous effect on retention. I planned on doing at least 20 years; with this proposal in mind, I am reconsidering it.

I fail to see the problem that needs fixing. Are we trying to achieve a 100 percent divorce rate? Then why not stop it at the start: If a person is married, he or she can’t enlist. If you get married after enlistment, you’re out.

Since the Gulf War, the Army has been working hard on family support and readiness groups. A change like this would negate all that work. I didn’t want to bring it up, but who can avoid Fort Bragg? The Army says the deployment had nothing to do with the family slayings. That may look good on an incident report but nobody is stupid. The stress the soldiers encountered in Afghanistan may not have been a factor but the stress of the deployment certainly contributed — especially if the marriage was already rocky.

Any one of us who has been on a deployment or has been a recruiter or a drill sergeant knows this. Time away from the family is damaging. Now the Army wants more time away for a “home base” trade-off. Yeah, great deal. While you’re at it, take away my abilities to own a vehicle or a pet.

Give me a choice and I, for one, would choose to keep the system the way it is. But I know I won’t get a choice — at least not until my ETS (expiration of term of service) date comes around.

Staff Sgt. Ryan B. ThomasGiessen, Germany

Adding to family stress

I just read the story “Army shocker: Possibility of leaving families behind has Europe talking,” about the possibility of making all overseas tours unaccompanied. Wow! What rocket scientist ever thought this might be a good idea? All you have to do is take a look at Korea and witness the strain put on soldiers and their families.

A sergeant interviewed for the reaction story claimed that the new structure would cause less stress on families. This is absolutely ludicrous. Sure, family members who want to maintain steady employment would be able to do that, but the majority of military families would rather be together than apart.

This process is already in effect. Family members who wish to remain stateside are permitted to do so. An overwhelming majority choose to spend this tour with their families. The irrefutable fact is that family separations add to the stress of being a military family

Maybe for a small minority this new system would be better. Undeniably it would be better for the Defense Department budget. Millions of dollars will be spent on this study only to find out that it will save the government money, but will compromise the quality and retention of soldiers. Accompanied tours are what keep the majority of us getting up and going to work every day.

Each day I read articles about OPTEMPO and the increased strain on the servicemember. I guess the author(s) of this proposal lives in a bubble. I am glad the Pentagon is taking a year to study this possible action, as this will give my family and me time to see if it is our turn to make the transition to the civilian world. Employed or not, at least we will be together.

To my wife’s chagrin, there are not many things I would leave the Army for, but the day it announces this as the new policy is the day I begin to look for another career. I will continue to sound my objection to this proposal to my senator and representatives. I sure hope others, married or not, do the same.

1st Lt. Jay I. Cash and familyWürzburg, Germany

Take a look at the Navy

In the Army’s study of the unaccompanied tours concept, I would hope that responsible officials plan to talk to the Navy. This branch of our armed services has been deploying sailors without their families since day one. Ask any sailor.

Norm LaBonteRodenbach, Germany

School class sizes

In response to the letter titled “Class sizes” (Sept. 6), I would point you to my home state of Texas. The Texas Education Code says:

§ 25.112. Class Size

(a) Except as otherwise authorized by this section, a school district may not enroll more than 22 students in a kindergarten, first, second, third, or fourth grade class.

Something similar should be followed by the Department of Defense Dependents Schools.

Whom do you contact? Visit the Department of Defense Education Activity home page and find out. See

David B. BrittSpangdahlem AB, Germany

A piece of the cake

I have been working with the federal government for almost three years and I think certain laws or policies need amending or scrapping.

My heart really cries out for us lower-level grades (GS-6 and below) when it comes to the sad situation of benefits associated with federal employees overseas. We have to have both upper- and lower-level management, but we cannot all have degrees or doctorates. However, that doesn’t mean one is dumb or unintelligent.

If you look at the economic situation in Europe, am I wrong to say that the lower-level grades need financial assistance like our bosses are receiving? Is it wrong for us to have half, or even a quarter, of their LQA (living quarters allowance)? We still have to rotate back to the States like them.

We as citizens of the United States are prepared to stand up and fight for democracy and our way of life, so why can’t we all have a fair share of the national cake or some of these benefits?

Charles O. YeboahStuttgart, Germany

Thanks for saying it

To the letter writer of “Five-year rule” (Aug. 27), I applaud you for your comments. I agree with everything you said. It’s sad to see that there are still so many others who feel everything is equal.

To the writer of the follow-up letter “Big fraud” (Sept. 2), the five-year overseas employment rule may have started out with Bill and Ted trying to get a free tour to Europe, but somewhere along the way someone thought of a way to corrupt the system even further. Thanks for saying what I was feeling.

Treva SuttonButzbach, Germany

September 11

A tragic day remembered

I was stationed in Washington when our country was so brutally attacked one year ago today. I had visited the Pentagon on numerous occasions, since I was stationed with the 12th Aviation Battalion, which provided helicopter transportation for our country’s senior leadership. Among those leaders whom I had flown was Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude, the deputy chief of operations and plans, and many of his office members. Maude’s office was the one hit by the plane that attacked the Pentagon, and several members of his office also were killed.

Sgt. Maj. Larry Strickland and Spc. Craig Munson were members of that office, and Strickland lived in my neighborhood. I didn’t know him all that well, other than as a neighbor. Our children occasionally played together. Our wives had talked.

On that tragic day, many of my fellow battalion members were preparing for a normal day at work transporting Army leaders to their many meetings and briefings. Two of my unit members got a front-row view of the hijacked airplane as it approached the Pentagon because they were in the control tower to guide us onto the landing pad. That tower had been completed just four months earlier and was finally operational; if not for that, those controllers would have been in the jet’s path.

The Pentagon’s old control tower was directly in front of the helipad, which was in the path. Also, my unit would have had a couple of helicopters on that pad waiting for VIP pickup. Due to their desire to arrive early and present a professional unit image, that would mean three to six aircrew members would have been there waiting. Fortunately, the pickup point was changed that day because of traffic, and the general wanted to arrive at the briefing early. Those people’s lives were spared that day by the grace of God.

Upon notification of the attacks, my unit’s aircraft were airborne to provide protection to those in peril and to provide cover in case of further attacks. The Air Force has gotten all of the credit with its jets, but the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Army had numerous helicopters in the area even before the jets were scrambled. That was because we had trained for a similar type of scenario to evacuate the Washington area and protect our leadership. My unit’s aircraft were part of those assigned to take the leaders to the hidden government area in case of additional attacks.

Since that day, I have thought about what happened. But on that day and for many afterwards, I couldn’t think of what happened because we were too busy. We flew many long hours to and from the “ghost” government site as well as to and from the New York area; we each got to see the rubble of both places and the crash sight in Pennsylvania.

After those horrific acts of terrorism, I saw the local area come to the aid of the victims’ families and of the rescue workers and their families. They gave from their heart and soul. This I know because I carried many of the supplies to the site in a Black Hawk; it was full every time I went in, and I made that run twice a day, every day, for three weeks.

I would like to thank those who gave and keep giving, and to all of those servicemembers who are in harm’s way at this very moment. Keep up the good work and don’t forget your families; they miss you very much and hope you come home safe and sound. If I could trade places with any one of those there so they could go home for a while, I would and I would do it with pride.

I just hope that when you do come home, Americans will fill you with the pride that you are there to protect. Wear the flag with pride, because it represents freedom.

Sgt. T. Richard McKeeLandstuhl, Germany

How 9-11 changed a life

The following was written by a sixth-grader for his world cultures class at Schweinfurt Middle School in Germany. The theme was “How 9-11 Changed My Life.” It was selected by teacher Karen Rose for publication.

Sept. 11, 2001, was a day of great tragedy for the people of the United States of America. When I saw the attack on Sept. 11, I was frozen with disbelief. I just sat there, eyes wide with horror. My mom was sitting next to me, tears streaming down her face. My brother had his jaw dropped with dismay.

Since Sept. 11, I have looked at life in a different way. I don’t take many things for granted anymore. After that tragic day, my mom went out and bought American flags so we could hang them on our balcony and in our rooms. I try not to argue with my mom or my brother. I try to forgive my brother when he does something that makes me angry. I always say please and thank you. I now have to show my ID whenever I go anywhere. I have learned how to be more patient.

I also learned to appreciate my father’s profession as a soldier. When I grow up, I want to go to West Point. I appreciate the guards who protect our military installation and housing areas. I know these guards left their families to serve the country.

I have learned that life is short. We have to roll with the punches and take what life throws at you. The terrorists thought they could break our spirits by attacking our land, but they were wrong. My spirit has just grown stronger. I am more patriotic to my country.

I am proud to be an American.

Dallas Hollin IIISchweinfurt, Germany

Enough unaccompanied tours

First we hear they want to cut down on troop size, because we need better technology, not people. They say the military has too many servicemembers. But what is the first thing to go into a troubled country? Soldiers.

Let’s make a brief list: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Macedonia, Albania, South Korea. These are just the more common places we know about that have unaccompanied tours of six months to more than a year. And if you think about these places, what do you think of? The number of soldiers already away from their families. Of course, that is the sacrifice we make to attain freedom, even if it’s someone else’s freedom.

There were several recent articles in the paper about killings at Fort Bragg, N.C., involving soldiers who had been separated from their families for more than six months while doing duty in Afghanistan. Guess the higher-ups think we need more of that, too.

In addition to deployments, months of field training and rotations also take away our spouses. Adding yet another duty station that is unaccompanied, especially Europe, is crazy. I can understand unaccompanied tours for dangerous places, but not for Europe.

The military says it supports the family unit, but if you take away the soldier’s family, you take away the soldier. But, hey, what’s a little more stress, what’s another deployment? We’re tough, we’re military spouses — we can do anything.

Maybe the Army motto should be, “Be all you can be, but don’t be married.”

Veronica KulkaBaumholder, Germany

Family discrimination

I was appalled by the articles stating that the Army was considering more unaccompanied tours. It would have devastating effects on active-duty mothers and single parents.

It’s one thing to consider a long-term separation from your children in a national crisis and another to count on them routinely as a normal part of your job. Six weeks after having given birth, you could be separated from your newborn for six months to a year!

If the Army is interested in discriminating against stable, family-oriented servicemembers and encouraging only young single soldiers with a high percentage rate of leaving the service for marriage or pregnancy, then they’re on the right track.

Lt. Col. Joan RubinoMannheim, Germany

September 12

Might as well be a bull's-eye

I noticed the story “Neighbors shocked at charges against couple” in Monday’s paper.

Those of us serving in the military understand the vast security problems that face us each and every day. We realize how important it is for both military and civilian personnel to be attentive, and to report questionable persons or situations. The fact that the couple who allegedly planned the bombing of the U.S. installation in Heidelburg were arrested after being reported by an attentive neighbor is commendable.

My letter regards the reporting of the events. The neighbor is, like the rest of us, a proud American. But in this time of increased risk, should her name and picture have been so prominently displayed for everyone to see? Did anyone consider providing her with a shirt emblazoned with a bull’s-eye?

Cmdr. Mike LamberthVaihingen, Germany

Growing up overseas a joy

I am 2001 graduate of Lakenheath High School and a sophomore at the University of Tennessee. I read on the Stars and Stripes Web site that the Army is thinking of making European assignments dependents-free. This saddens me greatly.

I loved growing up in Europe. When I went to college, I realized how lucky I was. I realize that the world goes farther than Neyland Stadium on football Saturdays and that people in England do speak English. While attending high school at Lakenheath, I was able to go to the beaches of Normandy when I studied about World War II and make my classroom lessons a reality. After reading “The Diary of Anne Frank,” I went to Amsterdam and saw her home, and was more fully able to understand the conditions in which she lived. I went to the concentration camp at Dachau, Germany, and have since developed an even greater respect for victims of the Holocaust. I have seen the big cities: London, Paris and Rome, just to name a few. I have gone to Model United Nations conferences numbering students in the 3,000 range and made friends with my peers from every nation.

More important than taking home souvenirs from all these places is my understanding of all sorts of people. That is the joy of being a military brat and growing up overseas. Coming to college made me realize that most people don’t have an understanding of any of this and don’t realize that the world is larger than the state of Tennessee.

I understand the security reasons behind making Europe a dependents-free assignment, but I am deeply saddened that my children may not have the opportunities that I did.

Emily BrileyKnoxville, Tenn.

Hiring situation

AAFES is a great place to work. It has good benefits, such as a 401(k), and it’s a company with worldwide locations, so wherever the Army assigns its soldiers, potential AAFES employees will always be able to get a job. This organization also employs people without work experience because it offers on-the-job training. Some areas also offer the Associate Career Advancement Program (ACAP) for associates interested in advancing within the company.

In fact, when I originally joined the team, the training instructor told the class that AAFES was a family organization and that anyone could become a general manager or strive for an even higher position, with the training provided right at your fingertips. Now more then ever this is so, because AAFES has set up Learning Centers (classroom and online) and offers employees to learn on the job.

I’ve never taken the opportunity to advance myself for any management position other then mandatory classes that were needed for the jobs that I’ve held during my service time in AAFES.

My observation starts with the need for a services manager. The previous one left with about two weeks’ notice. With only two days before that manager’s departure and without the position having been posted, several employees were called to see if they were interested in interviewing for the job. I assumed I was one of those called because of my previous experience. I found out later that some people outside the area were interested, but the position wasn’t posted, so they couldn’t apply or interview.

Interviews were conducted, but did not include the current general manager, which I found surprising because he would have the final say since this position reports directly to him. The most qualified person was then recommended for the position. Human resources called to inform me that another person “with more experience” was selected. The general manager overrode that selection and put in someone else who had interviewed. I was disturbed that the person selected, who had a very strong background with AAFES, was dropped for someone who was not as qualified.

Surprised at the outcome, I spoke with my boss and was told not to pursue this issue because it could hinder my career. I’ve never been in any position where doing the right thing or expressing my thought or opinion in a professional and clear fashion has ever brought repercussions. I did not take her advice.

I asked to speak to the general manager. He politely noted that all matters dealing with training were overlooked not by him, but by the human resources office. I then made an appointment with human resources; during that appointment, it was clearly stated that the general manager made the decision without breaking any rules. It was also explained to me that hiring someone for a management position was completely different than for a normal worker. “Things have to be taken into consideration, like distance traveled in order to get to work” and, from what I can remember, “the availability of the person at the time.”

The reasons that were stated, some of which I won’t go into, did not justify the nonselection of the interviewers’ choice for the position. Maybe the statement “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” now applies to our organization.

I know I can’t change anything, but having used my chain of command helped me get the facts faster, and I hope my boss was wrong when she said this could hinder my career. Not just because it felt wrong to me, but also because other people outside the AAFES family kept approaching me with the same question about the selection that was made. I do not take criticism well towards a company that has put bread and butter on my table. With this said, I can clearly say that I am a pro-AAFES employee.

Alejandro Maldonado-TorresHanau, Germany

License policy 'crippling'

I am a military spouse stationed overseas. I am one of many who does not have a stateside driver’s license. The policy requiring people to have a stateside license before obtaining a U.S. Army Europe license was changed after I arrived here. This policy is crippling a lot of military families.

When our spouses are sent away for any reason, we have a really hard time getting around. Many of us have children, and we need to be able to drive. I don’t understand why we can’t take a test here to permit us to drive without having to get a German license, which takes several months and costs about 1,300 to 1,500 euro. If you don’t speak German, that makes it even harder.

It is not easy to go back to the States to get a license. Many of us have responsibilities, jobs, school and our children to consider. I really think that this policy should be revised.

Tee SloanHohenfels, Germany

September 13

A painful experience

I felt compelled to respond to the proposal to make Europe an unaccompanied tour. Having just gone through this process in April, I can offer facts, educated opinions and manpower experience about the reality of making a location unaccompanied.

I am assigned to U.S. Army NATO, Izmir, Turkey, which in April was designated a family member-restricted, 12-month tour. The turmoil experienced by this process is dramatic.

The story in the paper did not touch upon the pain associated with this event, or how you manage a personnel replacement pipeline to make it work.

This change would result in many jobs, mostly civilian, going away. Eliminated or radically reduced would be agencies and employees with DODDS, family support facilities, youth programs, child development centers, housing, education, financial and many others.

Without cutting force structure, you would still have to fill those positions once a year instead of every three years. That means you would be rotated overseas every two or three years, at a minimum, to continue filling 12-month positions. Having to fill thousands of these positions worldwide would be a monumental task, especially given the availability of servicemembers in low-density military occupations.

I wish to share my thoughts on what is truly at issue here: money. I feel this is an attempt to save money on funding required for the agencies mentioned above. The reasons cited to make Izmir unaccompanied were force protection and seismic (earthquake) concerns. If those were truly the reasons, then why weren’t Ankara and Incirlik affected as well? The force protection and earthquake potentials are the same in those areas. Look at Naples and the surrounding area in Italy. Terrorist groups, a massive active volcano and an earthquake zone thrive in that area — not to mention the terrible crime and associated problems — yet no tour change is on tap for those people.

Is the Army prepared to bolster (and fund) family support services in the United States to deal with the increase in separated families? During my 18-year career as a personnel sergeant, I am certain the ability to manage this increase in 12-month tours is unmanageable without excessive overseas tours, with very little stabilizing time in the United States.

Sgt. 1st Class Jason M. DoddIzmir, Turkey

Provide support for all troops

My letter is in response to your story, “Readjusting to homelife, work,” (Aug. 24) about soldiers leaving Bosnia after a six-month deployment who are required to attend a briefing at the chaplain’s office before going home. This is a timely article and makes a lot of sense for a family’s mental health and well-being in integrating the military member back into family life.

However, no thought has been given to the reservists/Guard members not deployed to Bosnia who have been away from their families for almost a year now. I recommend the appropriate briefings, information, support and assistance be provided for the reservists/Guard in theater as well.

Missing an entire year in any family’s cycle is most traumatic and needs to be addressed. We would appreciate the same type of outreach before we return to our homes.

Lt. Col. Brian EscobedoStuttgart, Germany

Teen smoking

I am not sure what the policy is about teen smoking here at the Hainerberg housing area, but I know in the States it is against the law. Here you can walk out any given day and see teenagers smoking in the housing complex yards, on the sidewalk at the entrance to the schools and just about anywhere else you look.

It is disgusting and a health hazard. I have watched the MPs just turn their heads and say absolutely nothing. I can’t even take my 8-year-old out without her asking why smoking is allowed by children.

Just because we are in Europe I don’t think we should abandon our laws and health standards. When is the housing area management going to stop this or at least forward it to someone who can enforce the laws?

Richard JonesWiesbaden, Germany

Focus on care, not separation

Lately in the Stars and Stripes there have been several articles about separating Army families beyond the requirements of Korea, Japan, Central America, Philippines, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and a dozen more countries. I would like to make one observation and one recommendation.

First, the greatest retention challenge in midterm and career re-enlistment is repetitive unaccompanied tours, with some military occupational specialties hit harder than others.

The worst case I have seen was an E-5 with six years in service who had served one unaccompanied 12-month tour in Korea, an accompanied touring in Germany, two six-month rotations in Bosnia and one six-month rotation in Kosovo. Who would intentionally want to spend the next 14 years at that pace without their family?

Instead of making Germany an unaccompanied tour, I would recommend reducing U.S. troops in Europe. Send the soldiers and the millions of dollars we spend in Europe back to the States, where base closings threaten many local communities. The European community has professional armies that can adequately police their own back yard in Bosnia and Kosovo. It has been more than half a century since the end of World War II and more than a decade since the end of the Cold War; it is time for the European community to assume responsibility for its continent with its armies and air forces.

The bottom line is not how we can most efficiently separate our soldiers and their family members, but rather how we can take care of our soldiers, their family members and our nation’s best interests.

Sgt. Maj. Sam HamontreeStuttgart, Germany

Disrespect for flag

I am a civilian, and former soldier, working for the Department of Defense. Since I have been in Würzburg, I find it hard to watch the American flag be lowered at the end of the day and see people — especially dependents and a few military personnel — still walking or driving around as though nothing significant is happening, even though they see other servicemembers and civilians standing in respect when the retreat is sounded.

However, I was astounded that the German contract workers outside on the installation streets stopped and paid their respect to the flag — but our own citizens could not.

If we cannot take time to show respect for our country and the flag, then what type of message does this send to other foreign countries? What does that tell foreigners about us, and how we would treat them?

Harold N. JonesWürzburg, Germany

Cigarette prices

On a box of cigarettes sold through the PX and commissary systems, there is a label that states “U.S. Tax Exempt for Use Outside U.S.” So why is the price of a carton of premium cigarettes around $32?

One can purchase a carton of premium cigarettes on the East Coast (Carolinas, Kentucky, Virginia) for approximately $10. Further, the price on the economy is less than AAFES — currently 30 euros for a carton.

This makes the ration card process for cigarettes appear to be unnecessary and obsolete as well. I would appreciate a “real” answer, as I have asked and haven’t gotten a sound, nor reasonable, answer back. I was told the price is set by AAFES, not the Defense Commissary Agency.

Donna SargeantGarmisch, Germany

September 14

Soldiers deserve better

I recently attempted to mail some articles to the States through the APO at Camp Bondsteel. Unfortunately, I had only euros and no U.S. dollars. Thinking this would easily be fixed, I went to our Army Finance Office to exchange the euros for dollars. I was told the finance office does not give dollars, only euros. When I asked to put the euros on my Eagle Cash Card (a type of debit card used only on base), I was informed that they could put only dollars on the Eagle Card.

So you can only get euros from the finance office, but you can’t put them on your Eagle Card; and you can only put dollars on your Eagle Card, but they don’t give out dollars. This struck me as strange that our finance office does not give the U.S. dollar to U.S. soldiers. The clerk said if I wanted dollars I should go to the PX and exchange the money there. Irritated by the lack of support from finance and faced with only one other option, I did this.

When I got to the PX and asked to exchange the euros for dollars, the clerk said AAFES was no longer allowed to exchange euros. I asked to speak to the manager, who after a discussion of my situation agreed to let me exchange the money. Thank you! At least someone here supports their soldiers.

Someone should really take a closer look at this situation. If you think about the basic math of it, the soldiers are getting shafted. The euro is presently lower than the dollar, so for the soldiers to buy anything in the PX or other stores using euros (which is all they can get from finance), they are essentially losing money.

Sure, I know soldiers can write checks at the finance office, which are cashed as dollars, but you get the money back in euros or you can apply the dollars to the Eagle Card. While I may have had this option, I did not feel like writing a check for a $4.75 postal fee. Someone needs to do something; our soldiers deserve better.

Steve GrudzinskiCamp Bondsteel, Kosovo

Some five-year rule questions

I have a few questions regarding the re-enforcement of the five-year rule.

I don’t see how the five-year rule applies to people who joined the civilian work force overseas to begin with. How can they have been meant to rotate when they don’t have return rights to the States? Besides, they were not sent to Germany for tours.

The letter “Five-year rule not racist” (Sept. 1) stated “our own five-year rule policy reads: the length of your initial tour in Germany is ordinarily three years.” For those who were hired overseas, however, the initial appropriated-fund employment started on temporary appointments, not three-year tours. The letter writer goes on to say that all appropriated-fund employment overseas counts toward the five-year limit, regardless of agency.

Is this also regardless of the type of appointment? How can a temporary appointment count toward the five-year limit for career and career-conditional status? According to a Training Times article, “Five-year rule gains new teeth, costs some local jobs” (July 19), the Department of Defense rotation policy was expanded in 1998 to include career and career-conditional. Before then, it applied to just GS-7 and above. To my knowledge, a temporary appointment is neither career nor career-conditional.

Isn’t this a different category? The Training Times article also said, “When we looked [in 1998], about 69 percent of our career an career-conditional employees had over five years overseas. Now that doesn’t include the other categories like temporary or term appointments, and it didn’t include overseas limited.”

So if temporary is a different category, how can it be counted in the category of career and career-conditional? Shouldn’t the five years start after the initial temporary appointment?

Petra HatleyFürth, Germany

Army being belittled

I have been wondering for some time why this administration is sidelining and belittling the U.S. Army. I am becoming increasingly suspicious that someone in the administration once got perceived or deserved slights from the Army — and now is “getting even.”

It began with the Challenger big gun — deleted from the budget; probably deservedly so. But no other service had its cost-prohibitive weapons system deleted; we still got Osprey, we still got bombers and Joint Strike Fighters and aircraft carriers.

Then the administration leaked the name of Gen. Eric Shinseki’s replacement as Army chief of staff ahead of schedule, supposedly for not “transforming the Army” fast enough (of course, the administration didn’t fully fund that either). Then they pick a Marine Corps general to lead the Army (and other non-Marine) forces in Europe.

And now they want to eliminate overseas accompanied tours. Coincidentally, they propose six-month overseas rotations for Army units. How could Army leadership accept that? In six months an Army unit of any size would spend half that time packing, unpacking and repacking their equipment — expeditiously transported back and forth by the Air Force and Navy, of course. What kind of readiness and espirit de corps will that engender? Who would volunteer for that?

No similar tour eliminations are suggested for the sister services; they’d surely get to keep their tours in Europe and the Pacific. But don’t they already have six-month unaccompanied rotations? Right — on their ships and in their planes. And I think they get flight and sea pay for that, too.

Why are not the Army generals saying, “You are not going to make a puny American Army on my watch” and speaking out to Congress, soldiers and the American people?

In 38 years of service with the Army, I have gladly worked with joint and sister service personnel and I respect their professionalism, patriotism, skills and courage. But the Army shouldn’t be a scapegoat for elected or appointed politicians’ and bureaucrats’ personal agendas.

Robert D. DolemanKaiserslautern, Germany

A hornet's nest

The story “5-year rule fizzles” seems to have stirred a hornet’s nest, with allegations of racism, bigotry and unfairness being tossed about like rotten tomatoes. Please allow me to add my thoughts.

The U.S. Army Europe memo directing that all vacancies be filled by local nationals increases host-nation employment opportunities. How can USAREUR offer a job to a local national as Transportation Operations Assistant, Movement Control, given the current refusal of the German government to support the U.S. against Iraq? While the ops assistant may not require security clearance, he will still have to process (or be able to obtain access to) sensitive information such as unit status and strength, movement orders and dates. Further, he will have impact on decisions and policymaking.

Granted, the U.S. Army has looked upon Germany as an equal partner for many years and thus may feel obligated to help the Germans reduce their high unemployment rate. But consider this:

1. A German hired to work for the U.S. Army is required to pay German taxes.

2. Germany does not have an anti-discrimination law.

3. German unemployment offices have stated that “first come the German job seekers, then the non-Germans, but of European Union origin, and then come all others. A German will have even then priority, when he is less qualified.”

Americans having legal residence and work permits for Germany fall in Category 3. Sound like discrimination? In fact, the spokesman for the unemployment office stated that the problem would have to be addressed by the German lawmakers.

There can be no doubt that Germany condones and openly supports discrimination. Is USAREUR willing to support civil and human rights violations by supporting a government which has signed all major human rights covenants, but refuses to grant those rights to its foreign residents.

Gerhard ReissigHanau, Germany

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