Host Nation Office promotes community cohesion, German relations

Left to right: U.S. Air Force Maj. Timothy M. O’Rourke, Aide-de Camp, Maj. Gen. Randall Reed, Third Air Force and Kaiserslautern Military Community commander, Ralf Leßmeister, Kaiserslautern County commissioner, and Roberto M. Saldanha da Costa, 86th Airlift Wing senior host nation advisor, pose for a photo at the German-American Community Office, Kaiserslautern, Dec. 2. Reed presented Leßmeister with a compass as a symbol of working together in a positive direction. They met to discuss current host nation matters with a focus on recent COVID-19 developments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Devin Boyer)

Ramstein Air Base operates under a unique agreement with Germany. The base sits on German national territory, provided to U.S. forces for exclusive use under a stationing contract between the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States. What makes the relationship unique is the contract can be terminated by either nation at any time with two-year notice.

Such a unique and important contract requires a stable relationship built on mutual respect and continuity. In the ever-changing military environment, the 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Host Nation Office provides this continuity by acting as the conduit between host nation officials and base leadership.

“Germans like trust,” said Roberto M. Saldanha da Costa, 86th AW senior host nation advisor. “Germans like to get to know someone over a couple of years.”

While this can be challenging with changes of command occurring every two years, the HNO serves as a consistent point of contact for German politicians, civic leaders and the local German population.

The HNO is a direct resource for U.S. military and German leadership when there are questions or concerns about any changes or developments in German-American matters. Its staff of local nationals provide expertise and comprehensive guidance to both parties.

“This office provides continuity,” da Costa said. “Our staff of local nationals have built strong relationships with host nation leaders over the years.”

Traditionally, wing commanders and German leaders would have opportunities to interact directly at meetings and social and cultural events on and off base, but COVID-19 has eliminated most engagements this year, da Costa said.

Instead, alternative networking opportunities such as teleconferences, email and letters, virtual meetings, and the German-American Community Office have been used to keep those important host nation connections intact.

The GACO is located in Kaiserslautern and provides a venue for German leaders and the public to meet one-on-one with Air Force, Army and Kaiserslautern representatives. Additionally, German leaders now have the opportunity to schedule face-to-face meetings with Maj. Gen. Randall Reed, Third Air Force and Kaiserslautern Military Community commander, who works from the GACO once a month.

Host nation relations have been crucial during COVID-19, as both U.S. military and German leaders have worked together to confront the pandemic and cooperatively establish safety guidelines.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, U.S. leadership and the Host Nation Office have continued to be in constant communication with German leaders and officials,” da Costa said. “We’ve always been in constant communication. COVID has just changed the way we communicate with each other.”

Much of this communication has been with the Kaiserslautern County commissioner, Ralf Leßmeister, and his team, as they are the German authority responsible for COVID-19 matters.

“The importance of a close relationship with the Host Nation Office at Ramstein Air Base is particularly apparent in the current pandemic,” Leßmeister said. “The Host Nation Office ensures local politicians have a direct link to U.S. armed forces to communicate information and answer inquiries quickly and effectively, which we greatly appreciate.”

During the pandemic, the team of host nation advisors have also played a vital role in translating each state ordinance and hygiene concept into English, helping Americans to understand and comply with host nation rules and expectations. This in turn leads to positive relations with the local community.

U.S. military and German relations are important because the Air Force and Army are guests while in Germany, and support from the host nation and its local, state and federal leaders is key to mission success.

“The U.S. military employs host nation advisors like myself, who work hard every day to make sure that cultural sensitivities and language barriers are continuously overcome,” da Costa said. “Through direct contact with host nation and U.S. military leaders, we are able to keep the strong U.S.-German relations, even during difficult times.”