by Allen Dale Olson
In May 1967 I checked into the Directorate of the United States Dependents Schools, European Area (USDESEA) in Karlsruhe, Germany, beginning a twenty-plus year career of working with remarkable educators and military officers. USDESEA had been established by the Defense Department to operate under the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) some 200-plus elementary, middle, and high schools for the sons and daughters of military personnel assigned to the European Area.
For school purposes, in 1967 the European Area extended from sub-Saharan Africa to the Arctic Circle, from Rota, Spain, to Ankara, Turkey, and enrolled more than 100,000 students in schools on Army, Navy, and Air Force installations. USDESEA also had responsibility for paying tuition to international and State Department schools in locations where too few military dependents precluded operating a school. These “tuition-fee” schools were all over Africa, the Middle East, and in European cities where there were no U.S. military installations. USDESEA was responsible for ascertaining that these schools were providing an acceptable American-style education.
The USDESEA Directorate was organized much like the superintendencies of civilian school systems in the United States – a Director with heads of Curriculum, Logistics, Finances, Facilities, Personnel, and Elementary and Secondary Specialists. Subordinate District Superintendents were based in parts of Germany, along the Mediterranean Coast, and in England. School facilities and transportation services were the responsibility of local host installation commanders, reimbursed by USDESEA.
(It should be noted that while schools in the European Area were supported by the Army, the schools in the Pacific Area – Japan, Korea, etc. – were under the Department of Air Force, and the schools in the Atlantic Theater – Azores, Bermuda, Iceland, etc. – were under the Department of Navy, all with their own civilian school Directorate.)
I arrived to fill a new position for which a job description evolved, ending up with a vague Executive Officer title responsible primarily for public affairs and school-community relations. I loved those duties!
Not only did they necessitate my working with all the Directorate staff but they also meant I had to circulate among the district offices and the schools to meet with local commanders and school staffs. In short, I was not only immersed in the education profession and in communication with strategic military missions and stationing plans, I was also really seeing the world!
My position led to becoming the school system representative to the Transatlantic Boy Scout Council, the North Atlantic Girl Scout Council, the European PTA, and management spokesman for negotiations with the Overseas Education Association and the Overseas Federation of Teachers. It required me to be acquainted with all aspects of school system policies, military populations (to include nature of missions), curriculum decisions, and involved in the development of new and unique programs such as Project Bold, D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse and Resistance Education), African-American Studies. I met with Education Ministers throughout Germany, in England, Holland, and Belgium in search of host nation resource teachers to help our students with language and cultural studies. I was part of numerous meetings working out support details for the establishment of international schools at AFCENT Headquarters in the Netherlands and at NATO-SHAPE Headquarters near Brussels. I met almost weekly with reporters for STARS and STRIPES and the American Forces Radio Network for discussions about school programs, personalities, and current education issues. (Because of the number of letters I answered for STARS and STRIPES, one of the editors referred to me as “The Ann Landers of USDESEA.”)
Other duties included scheduling, planning for, and hosting visiting dignitaries from the Congress, the Defense Department, and Stateside universities and attending national education conferences in the United States. Another very big project in the late 1970s reached my desk: develop a plan to establish a local advisory council at each school; a regional advisory council for each Directorate, a European level school advisory council, and a similar council at the DoD level!
In short, these duties added up to more than 100,000 traveling miles a year!
Twelve years later, in 1979, Congressional Committees and Defense Department officials determined that the central authority for the schools should be in the Pentagon and that the overseas areas should be broken into smaller “regions,” each with its own regional director and staff. It took a while, because interests within and without the school system and the military departments were not convinced this was a good plan. At the same time, an initiative that reached the White House level would have the Defense Department schools transfer into the new Department of Education and be assigned to an Under Secretary. (Full disclosure: my name was a finalist on the White House list for that secretarial position.)
The services and many long-time veterans of the school system were opposed to the transfer to the Department of Education. When it became obvious that many international Status-of-Forces Agreements and federal employment benefits would have to be revised, the transfer proposal failed, and the DoD centralization happened instead. USDESEA was dissolved; DoDDS Germany Region North and DoDDS Germany Region South as well as DoDDS Atlantic and DoDDS Mediterranean Regions were created to replace it.
The USAREUR staff requested a DoD liaison to work with them on their school responsibilities. DoD and one Regional Director resisted the idea; other Directors and the Navy and Air Force both pushed for a liaison. When DoDDS Washington concurred, the USAREUR Commander-in-Chief name-requested me but the DoDDS Director insisted that I also maintain a desk in the DoDDS Germany South office in Karlsruhe. USAREUR accepted that for a while but soon realized that to be credible to their school-hosting installation commanders, the liaison would have to be a full-time USAREUR employee, not a DoDDS employee, so they created such a position to which I was appointed.
My USAREUR duties were not terribly different from my former duties with USDESEA, though I no longer handled press relations. I became a voting member of the European School Advisory Council which met quarterly at one of the command headquarters – Navy in London, USEUCOM in Stuttgart; Air Force in Wiesbaden, later Ramstein; and Army in Heidelberg; and I became a voting member of the Dependent Education Council which met quarterly in the Pentagon. Agendas included issues obtained from school level and subordinate command officials, such as V Corps (Frankfurt), VII Corps (Stuttgart), 21st Support Command (Kaiserslautern), SETAF (Vicenza), and 7th ATC (Grafenwoehr). I continued to meet regularly with the Regional Directors (Wiesbaden, Karlsruhe, London, and Madrid) and with designated school officers at subordinate commands, with Air Force and Navy counterparts, and to attend all the regional conferences of school administrators.
The effectiveness of a liaison officer is almost impossible to quantify. If the number of meetings attended and miles traveled or hotel beds slept in were the chief criteria, the evaluations would go through the roof! But when a school principal needs clarification for his or her installation commander that it’s really the host’s responsibility for school lunch programs, bus transportation and discipline, and for facility maintenance, it’s helpful to have an Army headquarters staffer at his side. Or when a commander or parent committee has concerns about a school issue or employee, it’s useful to bring in opinions from one who has been on the school side to help bring the parties together.
As one who performed liaison duties for twenty years, I can only say the experiences were richly rewarding: because of the caliber of people I met and worked with. The principals and teachers were some of the most imaginative, creative, and dedicated as any I could ever meet; and the military personnel with whom I was surrounded proved over and over how much they honor country, citizen, and duty; and because of being involved with the missions on Freedom’s Frontier with those who served NATO and protected America and Americans.
Not only that, I learned where I could find the best meals near train stations, motor pools, in airports, and along the Autobahns!
Schooling With Uncle Sam will focus on personal memories–what it was like to work or study in the school system, to live and work in a foreign country or military installation – the mundane, funny, or tragic events and interactions that made for a memorable experience. Stories should be about a certain time, event, or experience about school/work/life with DoDEA (or with its predecessor organizations such as DoDDS, USDESEA, DEG, etc.) Authors included in the anthology will receive a free copy of the book in lieu of payment. All stories become the property of the Museum of the American Military Family Special Collections Library. Proceeds from the sale of the book will be used to help the Museum continue to bring exhibits and programming to the museum community free of charge.This is a chance to preserve a unique history and to be a part of it. It’s an opportunity to share a personal look at a world-wide school system serving America’s world-wide interests and assuring that your involvement with it will be recognized. You can submit up to three different pieces for the book.
by Allen Dale Olson
It isn’t every day a groom sees his bride atop a camel racing toward the horizon of the Sahara Desert. Certainly not something we had planned for on our spring break trip to Cairo and the Valley of the Kings.
We were not really bride and groom – we had been married almost six months but because I had gone off to Turkey right after our 1957 wedding to start my teaching duties at the Izmir High School on the U.S. Air Base and she hadn’t got there until her term started at the Kiz College some weeks later, spring break was our first vacation together. From Turkey it seemed only natural that we should “do” the Middle East. Spring Break saw us in Damascus, Beirut, Jerusalem, and Cairo.
At Giza, with plenty of help from an official guide, I climbed to the top of the Great Pyramid feeling that would be my most exciting adventure in Egypt. Pepsi-Cola changed that feeling.
Reunited with Joanie at the foot of the pyramid, we walked through a gauntlet of vendors and peddlers all hoping and working hard at selling us jewelry, trinkets, carvings, rugs, and camel rides. Yes, camel rides.
Almost every Egyptian vendor had a camel or two and for a few piastres we could take a ride on one. Joanie wanted nothing to do with a camel ride. But one persistent hawker shamed her into thinking about how she’d feel once she got home without having had even her picture taken on a camel. For just a couple of dollars, he would let her sit on his camel named Pepsi Cola for a photo.
With some trepidation, I helped the camel driver hoist her into Pepsi Cola’s saddle. And while she forced a smile, I began snapping pictures.
However, as I put my camera away, Pepsi Cola bolted from the driver and started running toward the desert with the driver yelling for him to come back. But Pepsi Cola, with a screaming passenger, continued into the sands and ran as if he was headed for Libya.
“Come on,” the driver shouted at me; “we’ve got to get her.” He helped me on to his neighbor’s camel – Coca Cola, by the way — got on his own camel and we started the chase. Some two or three hundred yards away from the street, Pepsi Cola came to a stop, and the driver and I could pull to him on both sides. I confess that my camel did it all by himself; I had no idea how to guide Coca Cola.
The driver simultaneously shrieked angry reprimands at Pepsi Cola and reassured Joanie that she was now safe. He said that he and his camel and I and Coca Cola would walk slowly back to the pyramid on either side of Pepsi Cola so that naughty camel could not break away again.
I thanked the driver as we helped Joanie off her mount, but he turned to me with an aggrieved expression and said that since we had had a camel ride, surely we would feel obliged to compensate him, especially since his companion had let us use his camel to help with the rescue. I couldn’t help but notice that the chase had attracted quite an audience of other vendors and passersby, all seemingly curious about how this was going to turn out.
I could not deny that we had each had a camel ride and that the threat of a run-away had seemed very real. I thought about how I should report that perhaps we had been framed but could not identify a single presence in the small crowd who looked as if he would be sympathetic to such a plea. I recalled the price he had quoted earlier for a ride, so I opened my wallet and took out double the amount and paid him in piastres. I also saw a five dollar bill in the wallet and added that to the mix, which seemed to brig him great satisfaction, because he turned to the admiring crowd around us to proclaim what a fine gentleman I am and brave as well, to help rescue his beautiful wife from desert dangers.
On the bus back to Cairo, I could hardly remember my climb up the Great Pyramid.
submitted by Susanne Lenz
The University of Maryland Global Campus has an extensive digital archive featuring yearbooks, documents and student newsletters from the University of Maryland overseas campuses. It can be accessed here: http://contentdm.umgc.edu/digital/collection/p16240coll11/search
The American Overseas Schools Historic Society has digitized many yearbooks from the DoD schools. The collection can be accessed here:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
On October 14, 2021, the Museum of the American Military Family will observe the 75th anniversary of the opening of Defense Department Dependents Schools in Europe and the Far East by releasing a commemorative anthology, “SCHOOLING WITH UNCLE SAM.”
The anthology will not focus on the school system history or governing policies but on personal memories–what it was like to work or study in the school system, to live and work in a foreign country or military installation and move from year to year to another country or state – the mundane, funny, or tragic events and interactions that made for a memorable experience. Stories should be about a certain time, event, or experience about school/work/life with DoDEA (or with its predecessor organizations such as DoDDS, USDESEA, DEG, etc.)
This is a chance to preserve a unique history and to be a part of it. It’s an opportunity to share a personal look at a world-wide school system serving America’s world-wide interests and assuring that your involvement with it will be recognized.
Your story should be first-person and can be as long or short as you choose. Please also consider including black-and-white photos to help illustrate your memoir. You can submit up to three different pieces for the book.
Authors included in the anthology will receive a free copy of the book in lieu of payment. All stories become the property of the Museum of the American Military Family Special Collections Library. Proceeds from the sale of the book will be used to help the Museum continue to bring exhibits and programming to the museum community free of charge.
Story suggestions … a unique classroom, your daily commute to school, your host nation neighborhood, a military “incident” in or around school, a favorite host nation restaurant or field trip experience, a celebrity or high ranking or local dignitary visiting your school, something funny at school. Or an event memorable to you.
You need not be an accomplished writer to participate. MAMF will provide minor editing to sharpen your contribution.
The deadline for submissions is Friday, July 2, 2021. The anthology will be released at a public anniversary observance in October of 2021.
To submit a story, or for more information, please e-mail the submissions to OlsonAllen@msn.com.
To learn more about the museum visit the website: www.militaryfamilymuseum.org and follow us on FB http://www.facebook.com/MuseumoftheAmericanMilitaryFamily.
WE LOOK FORWARD TO SOME REMARKABLE MEMORIES!
I loved my job as a teacher. Having taught kindergarten through high school, the grade I especially liked was first grade. It was so rewarding to see the joy these children felt as they learned to read and to write… First graders were excited when they saw their teacher in the military commissary or on base. A first grade teacher is proud of them and happy to be their teacher.
Which brings to mind one of the years long long ago when I taught first grade in Karlsruhe, Germany. One of my students came to me and said that his mother worked late and he had to stay outside until she came to get him. I said, “Why don’t you tell your mother that you can stay in your classroom with your teacher because she can work till she comes to get you?” I asked him what he had been doing when school was out. He told me that he went to the playground and waited until 5 o’clock and his mother got him there. I told him to go to where she picked him up him and to give her my message.
So the next day his mother brought him to class and thanked me for my kind offer to keep him in the classroom until 5 o’clock. So, he stayed with me for the rest of the school year. His mother picked him up every day at 5 o’clock and thanked me each time, He was having trouble in reading so I gave him extra help with it every day. With the extra help in reading, he improved and was up to grade level by the end of the year.
I was happy to be of service to a family in need. I also got a head start in preparing for my class the next day. Teachers often go out of their way to go beyond their normal responsibilities and, in this case, to assume other duties to show their appreciation of being a teacher.
Joan Y. Olson, Teacher