My husband and I spent four years in Germany. We were stationed at two different places, Schweinfurt and Grafenwoeher. Germany was my first experience with the Army and my first experience living on an Army post. We have now been at Fort Campbell on the Kentucky and Tennessee border for a little over two years. In the last six years I have definitively seen differences between being stationed overseas and being stationed in the US.
First of all, the sense of community is different over in Germany. You basically have your Army family to support you and that is it. Unless a wife is German, her family is usually 2000+ miles away. No one is going home for the weekend or on a regular basis. Not all family members can visit those stationed overseas. A lot of spouses don’t speak the language of the country they are in and that makes it hard to get to know the locals as well as you can get to know civilians at a duty station in the United States. All of this creates a pretty tight community. Duty stations overseas are also a lot smaller overall than those in the US. Our first duty station, Schweinfurt only had about 3000 soldiers. We could also walk to anywhere on post. After being in the US for a few years I can say that I miss that sense of community that we had over in Germany. There just doesn’t seem to be the same type of experience where we are in the US.
Another big difference I have found is the way I interact with the surrounding community. When we were in Germany I did enjoy going on walks around my local village or eating at certain German restaurants. However, I never felt like I was really a part of the German community. It felt as though it was always their town and it wasn’t mine. Here in Tennessee I do feel a part of the city we now live in. My kids go to school off-post, our doctors are off post and we have friends who are not associated with the military. I feel as though I am truly living in our city and we have a connection to the Army post. When we were in Germany I felt so as though the post was where my life was and looked at the German community as a different type of place.
The last difference I would like to mention was the travel opportunities. Obviously there are a lot of great places to travel in Europe. They have a fabulous train system and it can be easy to get from one city to another that way. If you wanted to spend the weekend in Rome or France, you could do so. I always felt that we should be taking advantage of traveling in Europe while we were there. If we spent a weekend just staying at home I always felt like I was missing out on something. Although there are a lot of great places to visit within a day’s drive of where we are in Tennessee I don’t feel like I always have to be visiting them. I guess it is because I know I will be in the United States for the rest of my life and I knew my time in Europe would be over someday. I love to travel but it can be hard to do on a limited budget with small children. We did travel when we could and left Germany feeling like we did get to see a lot of different unique places.
I am very thankful that I was able to experience being stationed in Germany before we were stationed in the US. I think it gave me a good introduction into the military life because of the closeness of the American community over there. Having to depend on the military for almost everything gave me a good idea of what the Army life was like. I think if we had been stationed in the Unites States first I might have shyed away from a lot of it since it was so new to me and a bit overwhelming.
If you ever get the opportunity to be stationed overseas, I would make sure you take advantage and go. It can be an interesting and exciting experience!