172nd Infantry Brigade hosts ceremony saluting, building partnership with local communities

By Maj. Joseph Buccino, 172nd Infantry Brigade Public Affairs Officer
Dec. 2, 2010

GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Against the backdrop of a snowy late-November sky, U.S. Army Europe's 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade “Blackhawks” unveiled a "partnership tree" here Nov. 24 as a lasting tribute to the support provided to the brigade’s Soldiers and families by local communities.

The ceremony, which was attended by Brig. Gen. Steven L. Salazar, commander of USAREUR's Joint Multinational Training Command and installation commander Col. Avanalus Smiley, also marked the official beginning of a brigade sponsorship program that pairs local German families with families of the Blackhawk brigade. Unit officials said the program, the first of its kind in Germany, is designed to give the Blackhawk families an added sense of integration into the local communities and added support while the Soldiers of the brigade deploy to Afghanistan next summer.

“The idea is that when the Soldiers are deployed, family members who have created a friendship with German families now have another opportunity … to share, and if the relationship grows and becomes strong, it serves as a source of comfort,” said Col. Frank Zachar, commander of the 172nd.

Zachar explained the significance of the partnership tree to the more than 600 German civic leaders, American Soldiers, and families from the German and American communities, who attended the event.

Standing 68 feet tall and 29 feet wide, the tree is adorned with the crests of the communities of Pressath, Eschenbach, and Kirchenthumbach, the brigade’s three task forces, and the Bundesforest. 

“Rising high above the surrounding building to dominate the skyline, no one can enter the brigade headquarters without witnessing this reminder of what makes our mission possible -- our German hosts and neighbors,” Zachar said.

When a German neighbor family “adopts” an American family through this groundbreaking program, brigade officials explained, the combined effort among local civilian and military communities strives to bring German and American families together to enhance the quality of life for both.

“It’s nice to know that if I had a question I could have somebody from Germany to ask,” said Brittany Loveland, one of the many 172nd spouses in attendance. “Even people on post here can’t answer all your questions about what to do on the German economy.”

“It’s definitely a good feeling, knowing that somebody is looking out for my family while I’m gone — not just the U.S. military but German citizens,” said Spc. Joshua Loveland.

Sgt. 1st Class David Jones said he expects the program will facilitate a greater mutual understanding of American and German culture for the partnered families. 

“Maybe they can come to me if they do not understand something about American culture and we can have a discussion about it,” Jones said.  “The same goes for me.  Maybe we can both learn a little bit.”