BERLIN, Germany —The Military Reserve Exchange Program, established between the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense Reserve Affairs and German Ministry of Defense in 1985, promotes unique training experiences and cultural education for reserve component officers.
Each year both the U.S. and German military sends approximately 22 reserve component officers to receive training and share experiences within their individual skill sets. The United Kingdom and Denmark military also have an exchange program partnership with the U.S. military.
I found the program invaluable in the sense of enabling U.S. military members to see and participate firsthand in another country’s military operations and best practices. This was one of those opportunities which not only develops a military officer professionally, but promotes personal friendships and building relationships abroad.
I was one of three Maryland National Guard members and one of 21 U.S. military officers participating in the exchange program. As the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 115th Military Police Battalion, I was presented with a unique opportunity to host a German military police officer, Capt. Thomas Werft, in Salisbury, Maryland, during annual training in June. Werft is a 16-year German military police officer or Feldjäger of the Bundeswehr.
“I got the impression the U.S. Army and Bundeswehr were very similar in terms of chain of command on a company and battalion level”, said Werft. “Although the concept of a reserve differs much more than I expected, U.S. Army supports reserves in a better way and they also expect more from the Soldiers.”
Werft was one of 21 German Bundeswehr officers to visit and train with U.S. Reserve military components and one of four to train with the MarylandNational Guard.
“Overall I would say we are quite close in our military principles and thinking, but at the end it is always the people behind the guidelines and here we (U.S. Army and Bundeswehr Soldiers have the same mindset,” Werft said.
Werft participated in a battalion-level exercise requiring him to perform functions of the U.S. military decision-making process, mobilize as a member of the Maryland National Guard, and conduct military police tasks as a quick-reaction force Soldier during a simulated riot in Ocean City, Maryland.
“It’s the exchange of thoughts, mindset and impressions,” Werft said. “And I recognized during the program it’s even more; it’s building relationships with people which will outlast the exchange program itself.”
Following Werft’s training experience with the Maryland National Guard, I left Baltimore to train in Berlin, Germany, for two weeks. However, rather than a military police officer, I trained as a public affairs officer, a secondary skill of mine, with the Ministry of Defense’s editorial service, or “Redaktion der Bundeswehr.”
To train with the German public affairs was a big surprise for me, but also very beneficial since I’ll soon be the public affairs officer for the 58th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade.
I was able to not only grasp onto to the best practices of this macro-level organization, but provided my experience as a public affairs officer at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia.
In addition to my military role, I’m also a media relations specialist with NGB as a federal civilian and was joined in Berlin with Lt. Col. Steven Fairbourn, public affairs officer for the Utah National Guard. Throughout the two weeks, Fairbourn and I received an introduction to each function of German Ministry of Defense public affairs, which is the equivalent of Defense Media Activity at Fort Meade, Maryland under the U.S. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense.
Redaktion der Bendeswehr provides the German Ministry of Defense with state of the art media technology, various media content for three news publications, and social media expertise. Each department provided us a detailed lesson on the critical public affairs roles they serve under the Ministry of Defense. German Navy Cmdr. Peter Vossieg facilitated an introduction to all ministries of the German government.
“It was a true honor having our American counterparts here with us,” said Vossieg. “We all benefit from these exchanges.”
On the last day of the exchange, Fairbourn and I acquired a story involving the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, receiving a prestigious award known as the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, which was presented by Germany’s Chief of Defense, Gen. Volker Wieker.
Not only was I able to meet both our nation’s top generals, but we also produced a story on the award he received, which is now being published in the German military’s newspaper and magazine.
The story Fairbourn and I wrote will be the first English-written story published in the Aktuell, the Bundeswehr’s newspaper, and Y-Magazin magazine. These publications have been active since 1965 and are distributed to all Bundeswehr units and offices under the Ministry of Defense.