By Sarah J Schmidt 'Little America' In The Heart Of Europe
Ramstein Air Base near Kaiserslautern, Germany, sits at the hub of the largest American military community in Europe. With roughly 50,000 U.S. personnel living in the area, it's no wonder the locals call it "Little America."
The nearby Army posts of Patch Barracks, Kaiserslautern and Baumholder, plus neighboring Air Force installations including Vogelweh and Sembach, round out the community. Together, these facilities constitute the Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC), which offers some of the most exciting opportunities military members and their families ever will encounter during an overseas assignment - both on duty and off.
Opportunities To Excel
Ramstein serves as headquarters for U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) and for NATO's Component Command Air Force. It is also home to three very busy Air Force Wings: the 86th Airlift Wing, which is currently tasked with flying airlift, airdrop and aeromedical evacuation operations downrange; the 435th Air Base Wing, which provides rapid mobility and agile combat support for military operations, and maintains expeditionary forces; and the 38th Combat Support Wing, which handles everything from postal services to security for some 28 geographically separated units around Europe. Countless smaller units and organizations operate at Ramstein, including the 721st Air Mobility Group, which provides air transport for aeromedical missions.
Petra Day of the 435th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office notes the international aspect of Ramstein's population. "All NATO nations are represented here. If you add the civilians and family members, we have roughly 30 nations represented at Ramstein. It's like a mini United Nations!" she exclaims.
This cultural interaction makes up a big part of daily life at Ramstein, where Canadian, German, British, French, Belgian, Polish, Czech, Norwegian, Danish and Dutch forces all live and work alongside Americans. The relationship dates back almost to World War II when USAFE flew the Berlin airlift. With the formation of NATO in 1949, USAFE's role as the air component for what eventually became the U.S. European Command defined Ramstein's future.
Today, USAFE trains and equips Air Force units tasked with fulfilling U.S. air power responsibilities to NATO. This involves some 42,000 active-duty, Reserve and civilian employees scattered across USAFE's territory from Great Britain to Turkey. USAFE units frequently engage in military and humanitarian operations by performing close air support, air interdiction, air defense and long-range transport.
In the last decade alone, USAFE led more than twice as many contingency operations as during all of the 1970s and 1980s combined. Most notable among those engagements was Operation Northern Watch, in which USAFE units enforced a no-fly zone and provided emergency relief to Kurdish refugees fleeing Iraqi forces after Desert Storm. To date, more than 2,400 USAFE troops have deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Countless others continue providing critical logistical and medical support to forward-deployed forces.
Opportunities To Enjoy
Despite the high operational tempo at Ramstein, those assigned here find many opportunities to see and enjoy their host nation. Who can resist the temptation to sample local German beers or shop the world-famous Christmas markets? Situated in Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany's main grape-producing region, Ramstein offers easy access to abundant vineyards and wineries where tastings and tours are common. The Rhein River flows nearby, attracting scores of visitors to historic castles and villages lining its picturesque shores.
Nine equally exciting countries lie just beyond Germany's borders, and all are within driving distance of Ramstein. There's Denmark to the north (about eight hours drive from Ramstein). The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and France all lie to the west (about four hours). Switzerland and Austria are due south (about three to four hours) and the Czech Republic and Poland to the east (about four to five hours). For those not interested in making trip arrangements on their own, Ramstein's well equipped tickets-and-tours office plans travel excursions to all parts of Europe. The outdoor recreation office also offers frequent adventure packages.
With so many travel opportunities available, active duty and retirees take advantage of Ramstein's central location by using it as a staging point for more far-flung European travel. Ramstein conducts one of the busiest Space-A programs in the world. Space-A travel is a nice perk that allows military members, retirees and their families to take unoccupied seats on military flights. For next to nothing - often for free - they can fly just about anywhere on the globe. Ramstein is a popular spot for Space-A travelers because of its high volume of daily military flights.
Next year, those numbers likely will increase as a new eight-story, 350-room hotel or visitors quarters is scheduled for completion as part of the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center now being constructed at Ramstein, adjacent to the main runway. The complex will include restaurants, a sports lounge, movie theatres, shopping and a rooftop patio where visitors can relax and wait for Space-A flights outside the hectic terminal below.
For work or play, Ramstein offers many opportunities to excel and enjoy. It is truly a "Little America" right in the heart of Europe. Ramstein At A Glance
Schools: Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS) operates 11 schools in the Kaiserslautern area with a teaching staff of 500. With more than 7,000 students enrolled, it is the largest school district outside the continental United States. Four schools are located in the government housing areas at Ramstein. Students also may attend one of many private or public German schools in the surrounding area.
Higher Education: Five colleges and universities offer more than 54 different certificates, undergraduate and graduate degree programs through the Ramstein Education Center. Active duty and dependents choose from a full slate of courses which makes degree completion possible during a tour of duty here.
Medical: Ramstein's clinic provides outpatient services, while nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center serves as the major referral center for the European Commands and offers the most diverse military medical care in Europe.
Employment: Opportunities for on-base employment are limited. Federal government jobs or AAFES offer the best options but don't limit the search to Ramstein. Consider all military bases within the KMC to improve your chances for employment. For example, Ramstein has few civilian medical positions, but Landstuhl (only 20 minutes from Ramstein's front gate) hires plenty of civilian medical professionals.
Housing: On-base housing usually is available within a month of arrival, but it varies significantly from the typical military house in the states; most units on Ramstein are apartments or duplexes. Be prepared to put some household goods in storage. Off-base housing rentals are available but costly in some areas and also fall short of traditional American expectations. Things like closets and cupboards are considered amenities and often aren't built into European houses, but are available on loan from furnishing management at the housing office. Exchange rates and fluctuating COLAs also complicate the rental market.
Recreation: It just doesn't get much better than Ramstein for recreation. The health and wellness center is the only one of its kind in USAFE, offering massage therapy, reflexology, aerobics, family fitness and microfit evaluations. From the base library (the largest in Europe) to the cool Skatepark (featuring two awesome half-pipes), Ramstein has something for everyone - and that's not even counting the incredible recreation options available off base!
Climate: Four distinct seasons color life at Ramstein, but none are unbearably extreme. Winters are usually wet and cold with temperatures in the 30s and 40s. Snow comes and goes, but ice is the major concern during winter months. Spring and summer are mild, with temps usually rising no higher than the 80s. Autumn can be rainy but beautiful as the foliage turns along the Rhein River. Spring and fall, with comfortable temperatures and fewer tourists, are the best travel seasons.