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Volunteer Program Bolsters Relations With Community : GIs Help Farmers in W. German Harvest

Associated Press

When it is harvest time in West Germany, some American soldiers switch from jeeps and tanks to harvesters and threshers.

This summer, about 80 soldiers stationed in southern Germany are helping local farmers bring in their crops.

Young soldiers such as Pfc. David Connelly, 20, of Annandale, Minn., are participating in a U.S. Army program to work a week or two on nearby farms.

Like his colleagues, Connelly volunteered for the work, which is counted as a temporary duty assignment and not furlough time, but to the GIs it’s like a vacation.

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“To me, working on the land is fun,” Connelly said. “Apart from that, I can sleep longer here than I can at the barracks.”

Better Local Ties

Suzanne Schmidt, a U.S. Army public affairs spokeswoman in Heilbronn, said the program started about 10 to 15 years ago, with the intent of building better relations between the U.S. military and local people.

“It has been a really successful program, with interest growing both on the part of the local farmers and among the young recruits,” Schmidt said in a telephone interview.

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“Each year the program, which runs from the beginning of August to the end of October, draws an increasing number of young enlistees, many of whom come from big cities in the United States and have never had a farm experience.”

U.S. military officials see the project as a way of improving relations between the 250,000 U.S. military personnel in West Germany and the local population.

These relations can be strained at times. Most recently, many West Germans have been complaining about low-level training flights by U.S. military jets.

Diminishing Tensions

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The stationing of U.S. intermediate-range nuclear missiles as part of NATO’s defense force in West Germany set off frequent, sometimes violent demonstrations outside U.S. military bases in the early 1980s. These tensions have diminished, however, with the signing in December of the U.S.-Soviet treaty that will remove the missiles.

The U.S. Army 7th Corps in Heilbronn works with local farmers’ associations to publicize the harvesting program and to find places among the local family farms for the soldiers.

Schmidt said the soldiers are not required to have previous farm experience, as long as they are motivated and eager to try.

For the German farmers, the additional hands come inexpensively. They need only provide room and board. The U.S. military pays the rest.

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To such farmers as Ludwig Waldburg, who is Connelly’s German host, the extra help is welcome.

“My family and I live and work the entire year just for and from the harvest. Since our farm does not carry livestock, we earn our income only from the grain harvest,” Waldburg said.

Fluency Not Required

Because they steer cropping and threshing machines through the dusty wheat and corn fields, the American soldiers need little knowledge of the German language to harvest the grains.

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Connelly, however, had no language difficulties because his host family speaks English.

He is also accustomed to farm work, having helped out on his uncle’s 6,000-acre farm in Minnesota.

Waldburg praised Connelly’s efforts. “He is not only ambitious, he also understands something of his work.”

Both spokeswoman Schmidt and farmer Waldburg agree that the program’s success has helped foster good relations between military and community.

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“Many times the host family and the soldier will call up and ask for an extension,” Schmidt said.

“A bond is formed, and often the soldier will go back to visit the family at Christmas and Easter.”


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