Fort Gordon’s Chamberlain Avenue impressed Lt. Col. Gilles De La Roque when he reported for duty as the Army post’s French liaison in 2010. The wide boulevard that runs through the heart of the fort reminded him of an airport runway.
“My first impression was that it was endless,” De La Roque recalled with a laugh.
The large size of Fort Gordon and the United States in general is just one of the surprises waiting for the post’s international liaisons when they arrive. They’re also facing language barriers and simple differences in uniform and rank structure.
The heart of their mission at the Signal Center of Excellence, however, is creating and ensuring commonality between U.S. armed forces and their allies. It’s vital in war that U.S. computers and communications equipment is compatible with its NATO counterparts, said Lt. Col. Lothar Lange, the German liaison since 2009.
“The main focus is interoperability,” Lange said. “Everything evolves so often, we want to keep up (with) the pace and technical direction.”
The liaisons also serve as the face of their country, both in Augusta and in their travels around the United States. That means, at times, putting up with playful pokes at stereotypes.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, ‘Oh you’re from Canada, eh?’ ” said Maj. Sylvain Savard, who hails from a small French-Canadian town in Quebec province.
The typical deployment to the States lasts about three years, which for the three liaisons represents a significant interruption of their life back home. It also takes commitment by their wives and children to plant new roots on foreign soil.
Savard and De La Roque, however, have used the move as an opportunity to inspire their children to learn English and immerse in American culture.
De La Roque’s children are enrolled in public school, but they also study French at home to keep their native tongue fresh. He has noticed that they prefer English when playing.
“My kids are sponges,” De La Roque said. “They’ve done a great job (learning English), and now they are correcting me.”
One of Lange’s greatest pleasures came this year when he
purchased a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which are expensive in Germany. He also has taken a liking to pulled pork sandwiches and steak.
All of the liaisons agree that the forthright and frank manner in which Americans conduct business is something they want to take home with them.
If there is a downside to living in the Deep South, it’s the wet-blanket humidity and brutal summers.
Their home countries get maybe two weeks each year of the temperatures that last for months in Georgia.
“August is tough,” Savard said. “I do like the winters here, though, way better than the ones at home.”
America’s military is in a time of transition, particularly in Europe, where forces are being reduced and bases shuttered.
Even with the new focus on the Asian theater, though, Lange foresees a strong future between Germany and the United States.
Regardless of where they are headed, American forces will need a secure transit country, Lange said.
“(Germany) will always participate with the skills we can lay on the table,” he said.