Successful partnership: 52nd FW inducts honorary commanders

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Friendship, trust, teamwork, mutual commitment and shared responsibilities were some key words heard from a group of German and American partners throughout the evening as they gathered for the annual 52nd Fighter Wing Honorary Commanders Assumption Ceremony Feb. 25 at Schloss Niederweis castle.

About 70 wing representatives with their German partners, including local civic leaders and other distinguished visitors from the Eifel-Mosel region, attended the event.

The evening started with a formal dinner and welcoming words by Col. Chris Weggeman, 52nd FW commander, followed by a wing mission briefing, speeches, a formal recognition and the honorary command assumption ceremony.

"It's an honor and privilege to host tonight's honorary commander ceremony," the colonel said as he opened the event. "In the interest of saving time with a room filled with so many distinguished guests and leaders, let me simply say from the heart, 'welcome friends.'"

In his speech, Weggeman said the 52nd FW honorary commander program began in 2002 and celebrates its' 10th anniversary this year.

A primary goal of the honorary commander program is to strengthen the friendship and partnership between the Saber community and the communities around the base. To achieve this goal, groups and squadrons within the wing partner with honorary commanders from the German community who are included in official and social events to help facilitate a better cultural exchange between the wing and the host-nation country.

The colonel explained that building community relations, strengthening friendship, increasing cultural awareness and growing trust and teamwork through cooperation and understanding are fairly obvious objectives for an honorary commander program, but there are three beliefs that form the bonds and unite all of the partners in spirit and purpose: the belief in your own people who are your future; the belief that freedom is not free; and the belief in the power of yourself.

"So tonight, as we graduate some and initiate others as 52nd FW honorary commanders, let us never lose sight of what brings us together, makes us smile and laugh, what fills our souls with inspiration and pride, and what makes all of us the most fortunate human beings on earth - our people, our freedom, and our friendship," the colonel said to his guests.

On behalf of the German dignitaries and honorary commanders, Dr. Josef-Peter Mertes, the former president of the Trier District Government, thanked the wing's leadership for the invitation to the ceremony. He praised the friendship and cooperation with the Saber community. Mertes explained that the honorary commanders program holds a very special meaning on both sides.

"The main goal of the honorary commanders should be, besides strengthening friendships among neighbors, to maintain a tight network with the American forces at Spangdahlem AB," he said. "The honorary commander program touches all working areas and branches on a large scale and encompasses all representatives from the different authorities on and off base.

"In close contact with each other, questions and issues can be answered and solved, and processes can be simplified for any emergency cases," he continued. "This is especially important when we deal with the fire department, our rescue forces and or our hospitals. Other areas reach out to educational institutions, such as schools and kindergartens, or an exchange with each other's culture and tourism -- Explore the Eifel comes to mind -- and with it the need to always try to better integrate our American neighbors in their new home, the Eifel-Mosel region."

Klaus Rodens, the mayor of Spangdahlem, also praised the honorary commander program.

"For [more than] 60 years we have lived side by side in the Eifel region," Rodens said. "Life-long friendships with the Airmen at Spangdahlem AB have grown, in some cases from kindergarten age on.

"We are one large family," Rodens said.