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!
A fun day in my classroom at Andersen Elementary School on Guam. I taught 5th grade there in 1983 for the Territorial Government. About 80% of the kids were Air Force as the school was just outside the back gate of the Air Force Base. At this time there were no DoDea schools on Guam so the military kids when to the Guamanian public schools or private schools on the island. The Guamanian kids from the village of Yigo were in the minority at the school, but great kids.
Fred Perez (pronounced Paris), holding up the blue star in front, really surprised me one day by bringing in a Japanese skull for show and tell. He and his father had been boonie stomping and found it along with a rusted out machine gun. I asked him if he was going to turn it over the Japanese Consulate, to which he replied, “Heck no Mr. Medders. It’s my skull, I found it!” I was a bit taken back by that at first, but the memories of what the Japanese did to Guamanians during the war was still pretty fresh at that time. I couldn’t blame Fred from not wanting to help someone who might have murdered his grandpa.
The classroom was really old and falling apart. I spent my first week repairing desks, the sink in the classroom, and the wooden louvered slats in the windows. I “fixed” the chalkboard by putting a poster over the hole. Not a lot of fancy teacher supplies on the island, so I had to create a lot of my room decorations using construction paper. Books were old and outdated. I did a lot of chalkboard teaching that year. On any given day, all manner of creatures would scamper through the room, adding to the carnival of excitement my teaching bought these young minds!
All in all, my year on Guam was the most fun I had in my 27 years of teaching. The kids were great, the challenges taught me self reliance, and I loved the island and people living on Guam. My wife and I decided to leave because of pay. The teachers there did not make much at the time, and I felt I needed more if I wanted to start a family. Still, 38 years later, this small island in Micronesia still calls to me!
Now, as we near the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I discovered another Apollo 11-related gem…
Before my family & I moved on base we lived in the town of Tamuning for nine months, and while there I used to babysit the three sons of NASA’s director of the Guam tracking station for the Apollo lunar landings, Charles Force, and his wife on several occasions when she’d have to work at the local tv station. One of their sons, Greg, would become instrumental in helping the Apollo 11 crew return safely from their mission:
Flight Plan, page 3-119.
This is Apollo Control at 169 hours, 28 minutes. Apollo 11 is 118,542 nautical miles [219,540 km] from Earth; approaching at a velocity of 5,225 feet per second [1,593 m/s]. Crew is still asleep. Performance of all systems continues to be normal. Midcourse Correction number 6, which was scheduled for an elapsed time of 172 hours, has been canceled. The trajectory is such that it will not be required. From the Manned Space Flight Network we have a report of a contribution to the Apollo 11 mission from a 10-year-old boy in Guam. The Guam tracking station is receiving telemetry from this mission. Had a problem with one if its antennas – a bearing. The bearing was replaced with the assistance of a 10-year-old boy named Greg Force who had arms small enough that he could work through a 2½ inch diameter hole to pack the new bearing. We’re now showing Entry Interface with the Earth’s atmosphere; 25 hours, 33 minutes, 30 seconds from now; and the Green Team of flight controllers led by Cliff Charlesworth is now taking over from Glynn Lunney and his Black Team of flight controllers. This is Mission Control, Houston.
(Greg’s father Charles Force was Director of the Tracking Station on the island of Guam. At about 10pm on July 23rd he recalls his father had him picked up from his home, where he was with his mother and brothers, and brought to the station. A stuck bearing meant the antenna could not move. Greg did not actually replace the bearing, but he greased it through a narrow hole where an adult arm could not reach. That was sufficient to allow the antennae to move again and continue tracking Apollo 11. Greg later met Neil Armstrong, who thanked him in person.) https://history.nasa.gov/afj/ap11fj/24day8-news-checks.html
Heidi Samulevich, a member of OVERSEAS BRATS Brat Volunteer Directors (BVDs) died on September 2. She was 72.
Heidi had an interesting childhood/Brathood.
Her parents were German, who married in Nurnberg in 1941. Her father was a professional counselor who was drafted into the Army and became a First Lieutenant and was killed in Russia in 1943.
Her mother met and later married one of the U.S. Army guards at the Nurnberg Trials.
So Heidi grew up in both Germany and the U.S. and specifically her brathood included being an “Army Brat” and Augsburg and Munich Highs and the University of Maryland-Munich Campus. Heidi was bi-lingual in German and English growing up as a Brat. While she was at the University of Maryland-Munich Campus, she worked at a local PX were she met a Special Forces soldier whom she married in 1964. After he did a tour in Vietnam, her husband joined the oil industry and Heidi and her growing family lived in Southeast Asia. The marriage ended in divorce 40 years later and Heidi moved to Norman, OK. Read the rest of this entry »
MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN MILITARY FAMILY TO SHOW THE STORY OF SCHOOLS ON U.S. BASES AROUND THE WORLDSpecial Exhibit Opens July 11 in Albuquerque
By Allen Dale Olson
Less than a third of one of America’s largest school systems is actually in the United States. Its 78,000 K-12 students attend 181 schools, 58 of which are in the States, the rest spread around the world from the Far and Middle East to Western Europe.
Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, as part of the Defense Department (DoD), it has field offices in Peachtree, Georgia, and in Japan and Germany. The Department of Defense Education Agency (DoDEA) is a civilian educator agency serving the families of American military personnel.
The history, challenges, and achievements of this unique school system will be on display in the Main Reading Room of the Albuquerque Special Collections Library starting July 11 and running through August 22, with an opening ceremony on July 16 at 5:00 p.m.
An exhibit created by the Museum of the American Military Family (MAMF),“Schooling with Uncle Sam” uses quotes, photos, documents, and artifacts gathered from around the world from former students, teachers, administrators, and military personnel and curated by MAMF volunteers with decades of experience in the DoD schools. MAMF is the only museum in the country dedicated exclusively to collecting and preserving the stories of the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, spouses, and other relatives of uniformed personnel from our nation’s founding to the present. Read the rest of this entry »