ANSBACH, Germany (Oct. 20, 2020) – When the initial COVID-19 restrictions hit all of Bavaria in March 2020, local national (LN) employees proved they are invaluable to keeping the garrison operations going, despite the many obstacles and tasks the new virus brought with it throughout USAG Ansbach.
While most of the Soldiers and Family members were restricted in their movements and not allowed to leave the installation except for work or specific errands like grocery shopping, the German workforce continued to sustain operations, so the Soldiers could carry on their mission without interruptions.
“Our German employees are essential to keep the garrison running; without them we could not function and fulfill our mission,” said USAG Ansbach Command Sgt. Maj. Eric Bohannon. ”Just imagine the power going out or a water pipe bursting, and nobody around to fix them – we would be in deep trouble without our local national Army professionals.”
The unusual situation required unusual responses, which included alternating shift plans to avoid too much contact and keep teams separated, or organizing additional supplies that were suddenly in high demand and hard to get, like face covers or disinfecting hand sanitizers.
The Directorate of Emergency Services (DES) employs many Germans, mostly firefighters, as well as military police translators and host nation liaisons. During the initial COVID-19 response, they all stepped up to keep their colleagues and customers safe from exposure.
“I am extremely proud of our entire Directorate of Emergency Services teammates. Our organization is comprised of military service members, Army Professionals, and local nationals with specialized skillsets that enable us to provide continuous emergency response capability to the Ansbach and Illesheim communities, despite the ongoing pandemic. These humble men and women continue to operate exceptionally well during an unprecedented time and with greater constraints than those of our CONUS counterparts,” said Maj. Adrian Foster, director of Emergency Services.
Heidi Frey–Espinoza has been a translator and host nation liaison for the Ansbach military police for more than a decade. Her skills are essential as she serves as a link between the U.S. law enforcement and the German Polizei. In early March, she was put in charge of rearranging schedules of in-office staff, but did it so smoothly that it never affected dealings with the German counterparts.
“We started to rearrange schedules relatively early, making sure none of the members of two different shifts met in person, in order to always ensure a continuing coverage,” she explained. “People contacting us from outside the office never realized we worked with reduced staff.”
The firefighters of USAG Ansbach, all of them local nationals, are highly trained first responders to fire and medical emergencies. Sabine Hausleithner, chief of fire prevention in normal times, ensured that all of DES, especially first responders, had plenty of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and decontamination (DECON) solutions at all times.
Jürgen Daubinger from Katterbach Fire Station and Wolfgang Keller, fire station airfield crew chief in Storck Barracks, developed and implemented high disinfection standards for their workplaces. Birgit Koehler, a fire inspector by trade, put her sewing talents to use and created personalized mouth-nose-coverings with the logo of her department.
“Our Fire and Law Enforcement personnel are adaptive, agile, and focused on preserving the health and safety of not only garrison personnel, but the local community as well. In the case of our Fire Department, all of our firefighters are from the surrounding community or in close proximity to the garrison. As a result, the bonds of friendship forged between our local nationals and host nation first responders enables unparalleled cooperation and collaboration that not only bolsters mutual aid and training opportunities, but distinguishes our workforce from many others. I am truly thankful to have a special group of dedicated professionals who believe in selfless service and stand ready to respond on behalf of our garrison and local community,” Foster explained.
The Vehicle Registration Office, also part of DES, was shut down in the initial phase like most other agencies in USAG Ansbach, and was one of the first to reopen. While existing vehicle registrations were automatically extended by U.S. Army Europe, Jasmin Gangl, one of the registration clerks, worked extra hard to clear the backlog, ensuring customers were able to ship their vehicles out or register their newly arrived or purchased ones.
“We always had somebody on site to answer the phones and give first-hand advice. And, of course, we helped customers with urgent requests, like the newly arrived family who needed to register at least one car to get around,” explained Gangl. “And, needless to say, we all empathized with their situation and tried to help where we could. It’s the right thing to do.”
All of the garrison agencies depend heavily on the Resource Management Office (RMO), because all operations need the money flow to run smoothly; employees there had the option to work from home or on site, and continued to provide their services whenever needed. Claudia Nawratil, an RMO budget analyst, emphasizes, “We were here the whole time, our offices are plenty big and we were able to work without being at risk.”
More and more front door agencies became innovative in trying to reach their customers despite not having personal contact. While Army Community Services (ACS) created desktop videos of the “German word of the day,” Katharina “Kari” Biersack, a library technician at the Ansbach Library, and her U.S. coworkers started online video programs, where they discussed and recommended books for all ages several times a week.
“We also have so many online resources, community members have a lot to choose from, and we wanted to make them aware of what was out there even if they can’t come and see us in person,” she explained.
Biersack was recently honored with a star note from Lt. Gen. Douglas Gabram, of Installation Management Command IMCOM commander, for her creative approach. During the lockdown, the library switched to telephonic and email support for customers, helping them set up virtual accounts or clearing for PCS.
“This is definitely a service we want to keep offering, even after the pandemic, since it saves customers time and a trip to the library,” she added.
The Directorate of Public Works (DPW) has the largest number of LN employees in the garrison. In late March, many of the workshop employees, the painters, plumbers and electricians, went on an alternating shift plan to avoid contact with each other; services were reduced to emergency work orders with crews avoiding each other. Others provided their services through electronic and telephonic means from their home office, a word almost unknown in Germany until this year, and now a very common form of working while not “at work.”
The list of examples is sheer endless, and all employees continued to do what they were able to and allowed to do, driven by their inherent desire to help and motivated by their team spirit.
The civilian employees of a U.S. Army garrison in Europe who are not U.S. citizens are commonly called local national employees or LNs. They are Army professionals with a highly qualified educational background and knowledge specified for the German language, rules and requirements.
Across decades, they provide continuity, expertise and institutional knowledge in an ever-changing environment with Soldiers and U.S. Civilian employees moving in an out.
LN employment in Ansbach started shortly after World War II, with some employees working more than 45 years for the U.S. Army; some LNs proudly work for the U.S. military in the second or third generation.
Story and photos by Bianca Sowders, USAG Ansbach Public Affairs