The back of the building is visible from the Dulles Toll Road, but it does not look different from any other office building in the corridor. Its front is hidden from the traffic on Sunrise Valley Drive. What the people on the toll road and Sunrise Valley Drive cannot see is that in the front of the building there is a piece of the Berlin Wall, a German flag and a sign engraved with the word ‘Bundeswehr’ across it.
The building is the home of the German armed forces command for USA and Canada. The command’s main task is to supervise the operations of the German armed forces in these two countries. According to Brigadier General Volker Zimmer, the Bundeswehr commander in USA and Canada, there are about 1,400 German military personnel in the United States on any given day, joining their American counterparts in training exercises. According to Zimmer, the high level of cooperation between German and American forces is essential in creating a secure environment in the post-September 11 world. Zimmer said the events of that date highlighted new risks and challenges that require common answers from Germany and the U.S. The command handles logistics of training for its personnel in the country, and handles the communication with the home base in Germany.
"It is a unique organization," said Zimmer. He said other nations attach their military matters to their respective embassies through military attaches. However, such a large number of German troops on U.S. soil require a different kind of organization. Other than communications and logistics, Reston’s headquarters also handles civil administration matters and housing for its personnel. There are about 100 people working in the Reston headquarters.
"We are in 50 different locations, all over the [U.S.]," said Zimmer, showing a map of the U.S. that has a cutout of Germany, which is about the size of Montana. "The German Air Force trains all of its pilots here in the U.S.," said Zimmer. While Zimmer lives in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., other employees of the command are spread across the capital’s suburbs.
"There are almost 200 Germans in this area, and they have been here for over 40 years," said Colonel Heinz Altmeyer, a Herndon resident. The command celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2005, although it has been in Reston since 1991. The administration officials in Reston spend about five years on their tours, while the troops do three-year tours.
"We are all living in these communities," said Zimmer, adding that his troops do not have one area where they are housed. The command, rather, goes through the local real estate agents to find appropriate housing for its employees and their families.
WHILE THEY EAT, drink, sleep and work in Reston and surrounding communities, only some people in Reston are aware of the command’s presence. However, more people are starting to find out about the Germans around the corner. The staff at Reston Association (RA) is aware of the command’s presence, because the German troops use Reston trails for marches and some training. "They are very good about contacting us," said Karen Monaghan, the RA director of communications. Monaghan said she was surprised about the existence of the command in Reston when she first learned about it several years ago.
Altmeyer said that the local police departments provide shooting ranges for the troops to do training. Even Reston Interfaith had a chance to acquaint itself with the command in January. Zimmer handed a donation check to Reston Interfaith, after the Germans raised money for local charities through their first-ever German Christmas Market. "I was not aware of their presence until they contacted us in December," said Mary Supley-Foxworth, the director of communications for Reston Interfaith. However, she was not surprised to learn about the German armed forces presence in the area. "There are so many different professional and international organizations in the Reston-Herndon area," she said.
"We never did intentionally hide," said Zimmer. "We would like to take opportunities to get closer to the Reston community," he said. One such opportunity came in December of 2006, when the command invited over 1,800 guests — German military personnel and their families and American colleagues and their families — to a German Christmas Market. They served traditional German foods and drinks, while a live band performed German music. Zimmer said he hopes a similar celebration could be planned for this year and in the future years.
"MOST OF THE PEOPLE like to live here in the U.S.," said Altmeyer of the German personnel. There is a German school in Potomac, Md., which many children of the personnel attend. It is easier to transfer back into the German school system from that German school than from American schools. The employees of the command are also immersed in local sports and clubs. Some of them are members of Reston Runners, and 18 of the soldiers competed in the Marine Corps Marathon. Ulrich Mallwitz, a Sterling resident, finished the 26-mile run in a little under three hours.
One of the reasons why Sergeant Mario Woller enjoys living in the United States is because his children learned to speak English well. "You can’t even hear their accents," he said. While Woller is probably going to be sent back to Germany after a few years, administrative assistant Angelika Gibbons, another Herndon resident, has been working for the command for the last 26 years.
While they enjoy living and working here, the Germans declined to give any advice on a good German restaurant. Zimmer, personally, has found a German butcher in Baltimore he likes to visit. However, he said, "I don’t think we’re here to find German restaurants. We’ll enjoy the variety of America."