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Category Archives: Department of Defense

The Army Air Force Exchange Service not only has a webpage/online shopping mall, but the service itself is interested in archiving its 100+ years of history.  The page dedicated to this contains not only photographs and facts, but an ongoing call for anybody with relevant experience and documents to step forward and share.  It’s a very good idea, partly because when one lives overseas, the commisary, PX/BX, and all the other services really are a important part of day to day life.


Before I was born, my family lived in the Phillipines.  My father worked as a PE teacher aboard Clark Air Force Base, and by night, he was finishing a PhD  From the University of Santo Tomas.  My older brother was born there.

Anyhow, there’s a decent Clark AFB website that contains aerial and sattilite photos, among other things.

EUCOM is short of European Command.  Basically, spheres of American Military command stretch all over the globe.   Conflicts in Iraq and Afganistan, for example, fall under the auspices of CENTCOM.  So, obviously, EUCOM coordinates military activity in Western Europe.  EUCOM’s webpage does contain a detailed history. This is what it says for EUCOM’s “area of responsibility”:

The USEUCOM area of responsibility (AOR) has also continued to evolve during the past fifty years. In 1952 it included continental Europe, the United Kingdom, North Africa and Turkey. The AOR subsequently expanded to include Southwest Asia as far east as Iran and as far south as Saudi Arabia.

With the establishment of the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) in 1983, which assumed responsibility for most of the Middle East region, the USEUCOM AOR became Europe (including the United Kingdom and Ireland), the Mediterranean Sea (including the islands), and the Mediterranean littoral (excluding Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti), and sub-Sahara Africa.

Beginning in 1989, a sea change swept over Central and Eastern Europe, dissolving both the Warsaw Pact and ultimately the Soviet Union itself. As a result, a number of “new” countries (with additional responsibilities) were added to the AOR, bringing the total to 91 countries. It is important to note that although NATO Europe was USEUCOM’s raison d’être, the command’s mission to promote stability and democratic growth among African and Middle Eastern countries is of equal importance.

On 1 October 2002, in Unified Command Plan 02, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld introduced major changes in Joint responsibilities–every nation of the world was assigned to one of the five U.S. regional unified combatant commands. [There were ten unified combatant commands in all.] The immediate intent was to unquestionably globalize America’s growing war on terrorism. HQ USEUCOM’s AOR now totaled 93 countries, to include Russia. The theater thus comprised 30 percent of the earth’s landmass and 23 percent of the world’s population. A March 2004 change to UCP 02 transferred responsibilities for Syria and Lebanon to US Central Command, reducing USEUCOM’s AOR to 91 countries.

And, this is the description of EUCOM’s mission:

In 1989, the primary missions of the Headquarters United States European Command were essentially the same as they had been on 1 August 1952: to support the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and execute U. S. policies within the prescribed AOR.

By the end of the next two years, the politico-historical changes in Europe, as mentioned, coupled with developments outside of the AOR–of which the Gulf war in Southwest Asia (SWA) was undoubtedly the most visible–permanently changed the operational environment. The dramatic events of the 1990s ushered in a new world for the command. And 11 September 2001 totally changed the way HQ USEUCOM executes its mission responsibilities.

USEUCOM is now called upon not only to maintain ready forces to conduct unilateral operations but also to work in concert with allied and coalition partners, as can be seen since 1990–in the Middle East (Desert Storm and Operation Northern Watch), the Balkans (Operations Forge, Guardian, and Amber Fox), and the Global War on Terrorism (Operation Enduring Freedom). USEUCOM continues to enhance transatlantic security through support to NATO. Of equal importance, the command also continues to promote regional stability and advances US interests in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Russia–largely implemented through numerous theater engagement initiatives such as Partnership for Peace programs, military-to-military contact programs, and peacekeeping and peace enforcing and training operations.

I’m not exactly a military brat, since my father was never in the military.  However, one of the things about growing up overseas with a father that worked in the Department of Defense is that you’re routinely around all the branches of the service, as opposed to just one.  I’ve lived near Army Bases, Navy Bases, Marine Corps Bases, and Air Force Bases.  One of the minor issues with that, however, is something I like to call acronym fatigue.  Basically, the armed services have acronyms and abbreviations for EVERYTHING.  One that always confused me was BX and PX.  They’re essentially the same thing — the tax free department store on base.  In the Air Force, it’s BX for Base Exchange.  In the Army, it’s PX for Post Exchange.  The Navy?  NEX for Navy Exchange.  Marines, like at Camp Lejeune?  MCX for Marine Corps Exchange.

Thankfully, there’s a website like that has a ready glossary for the millions of abbrievations the armed services use.

So, this site has a very handy chart for ranks in all four branches of the Armed Services, along with payscale designations.

One of the more popular complaints about the government and military is that’s gross and innefficient.  Sometimes, that takes on a new poignancy when you’re a host nation picking up after the American military, once it’s shut down it’s bases and left for good.  Such is the case of Bermuda and the US Navy, which back in the 1990’s shut down Naval Air Station Bermuda and The Navy Annex.  Bermuda has been left with a pollution problem, one which the US Government refuses to take care of.  The American government has maintained that over the course of its stay in Bermuda, it has provided much to island chain — like building the Air Port at no cost to the locals (of course, the runway was shared by naval air craft).  And so on.  Since Bermuda is a self governing part of the United Kingdom, most of those in parliament look at the environmental damage done to Bermuda, shrug, and say something to Bermudian politicians like “Uh, that’s your problem.”  So, it’s no surprise that stories like the following end up in the Royal Gazette:

A war veteran has flown to Bermuda from Texas as he builds his case for compensation amid allegations toxic waste was dumped at Kindley Air Force Base.

Andrew Moore, 64, believes his ill health has been brought on from his time as an air passenger specialist — whose job was to dump tons of human waste in a deep pit — at the US baselands in 1963-64.

Cancer victim Mr. Moore’s concerns have grown since The Royal Gazette reported former serviceman Ronald Slater’s claims that he knew of numerous barrels of lethal defoliant Agent Orange being dumped and burned in a Kindley pit from 1965 to 1967.

Other veterans have claimed substances such as mercury and hydrochloric acid were disposed of in the same manner.

Think about it, you’re in the supermarket, and you’ve noticed a sharp increase in the cost of food since a few years ago. It sucks. It’s painful. Yet, it could a lot worse. It’s actually a lot worse for people overseas. By that, I do mean the rice riots that have occurred. And although really hard hit, I’m not wanting to write the Third World, although it’s a given that really needs to be addressed. At this moment, I mean American armed service members and their families who live abroad. Think about it, the exchange rate for the American dollar is abysmal. So, for the enlisted service member and his/her family converting dollars into Pounds, Yen, Won, Turkish Lira, or Euro, it just adds to how expensive buying goods on the local economy can be. It used to be that the PX/BX and the Commissary on base would be the low cost refuge for overseas DOD dependent Americans. Stateside Americans may be hurting from the George W. Bush economy, but so are those overseas, as the Stars and Stripes newspaper recently pointed out:

U.S. food inflation is running at more than double the normal rate this year, according to Reuters, and economists say it may get worse if energy prices don’t continue to decline from record highs.

At stateside commissaries, a Defense Commissary Agency survey revealed the cost of groceries, with the exception of meat and produce, is up 2.1 percent for the first six months of fiscal 2008, according to DECA officials.

“The price increases are universal to commissaries located in the United States and overseas,” said DECA spokeswoman Nancy O’Nell in a written response to Stars and Stripes. “This does not include prices on locally purchased items in Japan, South Korea and Guam, which move with the local economy.”

Though it takes extra fuel to ship and fly retail items from the States to Pacific overseas commissaries, those unique costs are paid with congressionally appropriated funds and are not passed on to customers, O’Nell said.

Because of that, commissaries in Japan, South Korea and Guam charge the same prices for national U.S. brand products as stateside commissaries do, she said.

DECA officials didn’t tie higher retail costs to energy prices. But the agency is required to sell items at cost and therefore passes “all manufacturer price changes — reductions as well as increases — directly through to the shelf price,” O’Nell said.

The most significant increase at commissaries has been in dairy products, which showed an overall jump of 7.8 percent during the six-month survey period, according to O’Nell. Least affected appear to be frozen foods and health and beauty care products, rising 0.5 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively, O’Nell said.

Terri Barnes, in her Spouse Calls column in the Stars and Stripes, has a pretty good piece. She rightly points out the toll that constant moving, when associated with the military, has:

I’m beginning to hate clean, empty houses. I have seen too many of them. A few assignments ago, it was easier to start all over. Each move adds names to our Christmas list and pictures to the scrapbook, but it leaves an empty feeling that grows harder to fill each time.

I erase an entry in my address book, write a new one, erase again and again. Eventually the paper is worn out, and I can’t put another name there. Some spaces just have to stay empty.

But the emptiness reminds me of what used to be there: The imprint of so many names that I can’t list them all. They have left their mark. I could work frantically to fill in every blank, trying to get rid of the empty feeling, but some empty spaces need to stay that way. It leaves room for what I can remember, but can’t carry with me.

Obviously, this is from the 1970’s. Note my father in the snazzy turtleneck. I really don’t know the full context of this photo, but let me tell you what my instinctual impression is. This is likely from Germany, I think. However, it easily could be from the Phillipines or the Azores, for that matter. Where it precisely is no matter to me, it’s the feeling I get from this picture that’s important. And to me, it says a lot about being an American overseas.

When you live in somebody else’s country, “community” takes on a whole new meaning and importance, one that I think is lost on some Stateside Americans. And it’s something that Stateside Americans have trouble with, in terms of trying to understand immigrant populations. When almost everything seems foreign to you, friendships take on a new, huge importance — in many instances, you have no choice but to band together, even if the only commonality you have with somebody is a shared citizenship. Thus, the simple act of going to somebody else’s home for coffee, dinner, or a glass of wine takes on a new importance, especially if you live off-base, amidst the locals. Sometimes, your fellow expatriate is the only comfort some can find in a country where you don’t know the language, the customs, or the proper protocols.

The State Department has a page on “Third Culture Kids,” and what that essentially means. An exerpt:

Third-culture kids are those who have spent some of their growing up years in a foreign country and experience a sense of not belonging to their passport country when they return to it. In adapting to life in a ‘foreign’ country they have also missed learning ways of their homeland and feel most at home in the ‘third-culture’ which they have created. Little understood by American schools, where they are often considered an oddity, what third culture kids want most is to be accepted as the individuals they are.

According to Kay Eakin, author of According to My Passport, I’m Coming Home, the term TCK was first used 40 years ago by Ruth Hill Useem in her research on North American children living in India.