September 6-September 14
To say that the 3-Forum IWF Germany trip was the quintessential IWF affiliated experience just does not capture the depth and breadth of the experience.
Forty-three attendees – 16 Trusteeship members and 7 of their guests, 3 New York forum members and 2 of their guests, 12 IWF Northern California members and an IWF Fellow and her husband from General Barb’s Fellows Class – all but roomed together for 8 days and 8 nights. We were close, slugging down eye-opening coffee or Earl Grey and breakfast at 7am to ready ourselves for the day’s activities, first-class shuttle buses and trains, daytime and nighttime activities packed literally back-to-back. I am happy to report the trip was complaint and drama-free. It was just a great group of similarly minded people sharing a most remarkable opportunity, an experience that will always connect us.
We arrived on different days, different times, but the official start of this adventure took place at Zeppelino’s Hotel Steigenberger in Stuttgart. For 4 nights and 3 days, Northern and Southern California member, Major General Barbara Faulkenberry who, as you know, is stationed in Stuttgart in her capacity as Deputy for Operations and Logistics U.S. Africa Command, provided oversight in the planning of our detailed itinerary. If you attended or heard about the Travis Air Force Base weekend when Gen Barb was in command, then you have an understanding of the level of sophistication and the high caliber of our stay in Stuttgart. Over wine and hors-d’oeuvres, we greeted one another, and Gen Barb kicked off the following days with a warm welcome and a taste of what was to come, including the rules of engagement, namely: Tardiness will result in a command punishment of any number of pushups. Not surprisingly, none of us chose to test our pushup capability and were shockingly on time. We concluded our first evening at a local gourmet restaurant, allowing attendees time to get to connect.
Our next three days were action-packed. We spent Day 1 at U.S. Africa Command – a joint command of Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines – where we gained an understanding of how the U.S. military has been organized in Stuttgart since 2007 with the goal being to advance shared interests with African militaries. This strategy was based on the realization that what goes on in Africa has real impact in other areas of the world and the resulting focus on the relationship of political, economic and social development. It was jarring to realize that of the 54 countries in Africa, in which there are 50 embassies, we have a presence in only one-third.
We explored topical issues like advances in democracy; how defense partners with the whole of government and international governmental organizations and African contributions to peacekeeping operations.
During a specially catered German lunch at a nearby restaurant, we had the opportunity to explore diverse subjects with experts on a particular topic: Communications challenges; enhancing the enlisted corps of African militaries; pandemic response initiatives; regional or topical “deep dives.”
In the afternoon, we explored the most significant military challenges facing the African continent including South Sudan; implications of a failed state in Somalia, and; efforts to stop the terror of the Lord’s Resistance Army. We discussed the unknowns that might result from the Arab Spring. We came away with a clear understanding of U.S. African Command stated focus: Defense, development and diplomacy or as it is abbreviated – the 3 D’s.
That night we enjoyed dinner at the 18th century Schloss Solitude (Solitude Palace) in the heights of Stuttgart with a magnificent view of the surrounding lowlands.
Day 2 was spent at the U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) where we were introduced to the U.S. military’s mission to conduct military operations, international military engagement, and interagency partnering to enhance transatlantic security and to defend the United States in concert with our European Allies. Their job to provide security has as its primary drivers effectiveness and efficiency. It was clearly stated that the U.S. is the glue that holds Europe down in that we enable nations to work together in the European monetary union. Generally, we are in Europe to underpin NATO. It was noted that NATO, though, needs to refine itself as technological, biological, and nuclear weapons confront us and as drugs are increasingly used to finance terrorist organizations.
In the afternoon, we discussed interagency partnering and the directorate focus on the whole of society approach created to enable “whole” government solutions. It was explained to us that since 9/11, we have focused on harnessing inter-disciplinary agencies to ensure maximum efficiency.
That evening, we were hosted for a lovely dinner by the Robert Bosch Foundation, one of Germany’s largest company-associated foundations, at the Robert Bosch home which is used as the Foundation’s headquarters. A guided tour of the historic rooms allowed us to appreciate the beautiful woodwork and period décor.
Day 3, we traveled for a most remarkable visit to an operational German base where we received the ultimate in diplomatic treatment, from the welcoming signage, to the special handling by the Battalion Commander, the operational displays of a field camp, sea water purification, and fire protection seen from customized viewing areas. Most enjoyable and memorable was our dining experience with the German soldiers and the very upscale lunch in a specially appointed and huge canvas tent. It was easy to understand that preparations for our visit took three weeks.
One of the many emotional highlights was the following visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the largest U.S. military hospital outside the United States, the hub for immediate treatment of wounded military members from Iraq and Afghanistan. We were briefed on aeromedical evacuation capability and the expert trauma professionals who create lifesaving care for those who would never have made it home from past conflicts. Without a doubt, we had a real sense of the cost of war, the impact to families, and the incredible sacrifice of the volunteers who make up the U.S. military. The visit to the base USO put it all in perspective.
Ramstein Air Force Base was our next destination. It is at Ramstein that all U.S. air forces in Europe are directed for air operations spanning three continents. Its mission includes war fighting as well as humanitarian and peacekeeping operations.
We checked into the very decent “barracks” on the Base and readied ourselves for a warm evening and dinner hosted in the Officer’s Club by the 4-Star General.
The next day, we departed Ramstein for Rudesheim. Since the beginning of the last century, Ruedesheim has been an attraction for English and German romantic writers, and considering the modest number of its residents, is today one of the most visited towns in Germany. We had time to visit Drosselgasse where one could purchase any number of tourist “must haves”, which, of course, we did.
We had a private cruise on the Rhine River on this warm and sunny day, enjoying a rustic lunch buffet and a visit to Castle Rheinstein, a 13th century example of medieval lifestyle and architecture, stoically climbing the seemingly endless stairs leading up to and throughout the Castle. We agreed that it was worth the huffing and puffing.
Dinner that evening in the 450-year old Hotel Krone was elegant as we were treated to an outstanding multi-course dinner accompanied by wines of the Rhine region. Fortunately, we did not have far to go as we made our way to the hotel’s convenient rooms with period furnishings and antiques.
Day 5 was September 11, and we were quite in the moment. Before we made our way to the train and to Mainz, we stopped to overlook the breathtaking vineyards leading to the serene Middle Rhine. It is here that General Barb led us in meditation for the September 11 loss of life and casualties and shared heartfelt thoughts of appreciation for those soldiers who have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice their lives for our country. We took time to wander the grounds individually taking the time to reflect as we needed.
We made our way to the train for an easy ride to designer Anja Gockel’s (the president of IWF Germany) fashion studio in Mainz. After some appetizers and wine, Anja shared her path as a designer, allowing ample time for us to destroy her showroom as we tried on item after item looking for that special piece of clothing. Most fun, though, was seeing Gen Barb in an Anja designed black formal outfit that she wore so beautifully at our closing dinner.
Purchases in hand, we boarded a high-speed train from Frankfurt to Berlin on the ICE, the fastest train on the German Rail roster.
Arrival in Berlin was easy and uneventful, and we were transferred to the very nice Brandenburger Hof and welcomed with a champagne reception. We mingled, we grooved to Martha Daniels’ soul singing as only Martha can belt out, and we went to sleep exhausted and in anticipation of the closing days.
The Berlin itinerary and special access was arranged by IWF Germany member Jane Williams-Boock who is in the diplomatic service industry in Berlin. Jane generously gave us a Berlin we would have never had the opportunity to experience. After breakfast we were shuttled for a visit the German Chancellery – Angela Merkel’s Place, as it is endearingly called. We were told that the architectural ensemble of the new German Chancellery is one of the most impressive structures in the newly created government district. During our private tour, a few in our group actually caught a glimpse and grabbed a picture of Chancellor Merkel quickly departing the building, no doubt on her way to deal with EU issues. We spent the afternoon at The Federal Ministry of Defense and Bendlerblock, a historical building complex located near the Tiergartenpark along the southern edge of what was once the diplomatic quarter of Berlin. It was the site of Hitler’s speech of February 3, 1933, on “Lebensraum (living space) in the east.”
Immediately following, we listened to an interesting discussion by women soldiers at the Bundeswehr German Ministry of Defense and concluded with a formal and sensitive laying of a wreath with General Barb, Jane Williams-Boock and the two California IWF presidents at the Bundeswehr Memorial, the memorial dedicated to some 3,100 German soldiers killed in service since 1955.
We were hosted that evening by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, one of the world’s major cultural organizations, which has as its mission the preservation and care of the collections and archives of the State of Prussia. President and Professor Dr. Hermann Parzinger welcomed us with an explanation of Villa von der Heydt, the dining room in which we were dining and the current central administration building of the Foundation. Seated at each of our tables were a handful of representatives of American institutions in Berlin. It was a delightful evening for everyone.
Given the intense itinerary and the fact that there was little to no downtown (or explore/shop time), our schedule was opened to include not just the top museums and galleries in Germany, but the option of just “doing your own thing.”
For those of us who chose the museums and galleries, we were given private tours of Old National Gallery, traced back to a sketch by Wilhelm IV. in 1841; the Bode Museum, which was created as the museum of the Renaissance, and; the New Museum (Neues Museum), constructed between 1843 and 1855, constituting a key work in the history of art, and technology in the19th century.
After regrouping, we took an excursion to Potsdam’s Sanssouci Castle and Park. As the story goes, Frederick the Great wanted to cultivate plums, figs and wine on Potsdam’s doorstep. In 1744, he had a terraced garden designed in Sanssouci Park for this reason. But, due to the exceptionally beautiful view, the king turned in to a summer residence above the terraces just a year later.
We enjoyed a leisurely walk from the Sanssouci Palace to the “Neues Palais”, where we visited the stunning and opulent private rooms of Frederick the Great, the “Friedrichswohnung”, otherwise not open to the public.
And for the finale: An exclusive access gala dinner at the Castle Lindstedt, one of Potsdam’s famous castles and gardens and a World Heritage Site built under Frederick William IV. The setting, the meal, and the company made for a perfect ending, but the highlight was Gen Barb’s gift to each of us: individual and unique military tokens that she had collected – tokens that served a specific purpose. Whenever one presents a token to someone in the military, the receiver must buy the presenter a drink, unless the receiver is able to present his or her own token. All attendees agreed that they were going to put this game into play as soon as possible. We concluded an incredible weeklong experience with special thanks to all those who made this a most memorable and remarkable experience and concluded the evening in the warm company of friends in the magnificence of the ages.
We traveled home with more of an understanding of the enormity of our military institutions and an appreciation of the complex issues that must be processed. Particularly humbling was the depth of respect and admiration for those soldiers who sacrifice service for country above all else. We came away with a shared opinion that Gen Barb sets the bar for women’s leadership and human excellence. We are, indeed, fortunate to have her as a member.