Not long after moving to Germany I began to realize two somewhat odd things. First everything you need can be found on the military installations I work on so you never need to go out to find anything. Groceries, libraries, shopping, fast food, entertainment, fuel for your vehicles, it’s all there. Maybe not every brand choice or selection, but you can get it. Second, there are some people who don’t ever go off post.
Not all of the locations in Germany, or even just in Europe, are like where I live. There are more soldiers where I am than any other location, all four of the places I have offices and regularly go have more soldiers than other places (there may be more sailors, Marines, or airmen at other locations but soldiers are concentrated here).
Ever since I realized there are people that don’t want to go out into Germany and explore I started trying to figure out why. I’ve asked myself, and even others, what they think about it and none of us could come up with a reason. Until I was asked one more time.
At a recent meeting at Netzaberg Middle School I found myself walking around the building with a large group of people that included the principal and a lawyer for the engineering firm that designed the school. The lawyer began asking the principal if they taught language to the students. He replied not really. There is a Host Nation Class in which they talk about things German and some Spanish/English classes but that’s really it. She began to talk about how in German schools they teach English from an early age. Nothing new there, I’ve long joked that someone who speaks two languages is bilingual, three languages is trilingual, and one language is American. And there was a touch of superiority in voice as we spoke.
But then she asked why some of the population never went out and saw the community or the country around them. It was asked with a holier than thou superior tone that I could tell she expected no sufficient answer for. The principal began explaining that the post was built so that literally everything needed was available. Sometimes when the soldier deploys the spouse and family are left here and they need the support that is the familiarity and comfort of a miniature slice of the US surrounded by a fence and Bavaria landscape. And then it hit me.
Not all of the people who are stationed here came here by choice like I did. Deep down you can say that they made a choice to join the Army or to accept orders or even just to go where their spouse was sent. There are people who have lived their entire lives in one town and one state. People who haven’t seen the glory and grandeur of the rest of the US. Folks who live where their grandparents lived, went to school where their parents went, hung out with their cousins for best friends, knew everyone in town, and went to the same school system for the full 12 years. I mean fifth generation in one town kind of folks who have never imagined leaving that town, the greatest town ever founded. But when they joined the military they were taken away to somewhere foreign. Maybe it was a different state, but maybe it was a different continent. Not everyone likes to be removed from their comfort zone. Some very much don’t want to leave their bubbles at all. Those are the souls that never leave post, never see the wonders of a Weinachtmarkt, or a thousand year old city or monuments to battles and wars they have never heard of. Those are the people who can take the opportunity of a lifetime and allow it to completely pass them by. These are the residents of the forest that refuse to see the trees.
I have known people as I describe. I have been one of those people. I no longer fault anyone for choosing to avoid the chance to literally see the world. I also no longer wonder why they don’t leave, I get it. It is not just an arrogant American trait as I once believed. Finally, after having been asked one more time, it all came clear.
Personally I have come a long way from the fifth generation Biloxian who was born a half mile from where I lived the first 14 years of my life. My great-grandparents house, two blocks from my grandparents and six miles from my other grandparents. I went to the same school my parents went and had one teacher my Mom had, part of my elementary school was a school my grandfather attended. I knew everyone in town, graduated with people I’d known for 12 years, and hung out with my cousins so much that it sometimes feel I was related to everyone. I never imagined leaving Biloxi but after I did I never imagined moving back. It is still home, it will always be home. It is clear to me both why someone would take the more travelled road and stay in their Comfort Bubble but also and more importantly I understand that taking the road less travelled truly does make all the difference.