Tree illuminates German-American relations

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany - -- The diamond studs in the cold night sky watch over the throngs and masses gathered in a parking lot down below. Flood lights cast shadows over the excited faces of children and adults alike shivering with anticipation and from the chilly weather.

A countdown commences, "Five... Four... Three... Two... One!" A switch is thrown, and a roaring cheer follows seconds after. An evergreen tree shudders as it lights up the Saber Circle nearby. A distant roar of applause can be heard as rainbow lights glisten under a bright yellow star.

Spangdahlem Air Base celebrated the Holiday Tree-Lighting with a ceremony Dec. 4, 2014, at the Eifel Lanes Bowling Center here by lighting an evergreen tree as per holiday tradition.

Local citizens of Spangdahlem, Germany, donated the tree to the base in support of the annual ceremony, with the approval of their mayor, Klaus Rodens, a native of Spangdahlem.

"It's a pleasure to do it," Rodens said. "It's a pleasure to see the tree lighting from on base and off base."

After the tree is reviewed by Rodens, the 52nd Civil Engineer Squadron sends civilian contractors to safely cut the tree down and bring it on base. After it is successfully installed in its designated spot, 52nd CES electricians proceed to decorate the tree with festive lights and a star.

"It's a great opportunity for us to intermingle with the host nation," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ravon McCoy, a 52nd CES electrical systems journeyman and native of Dallas. "I think it's a beautiful thing that they helped bring the holiday spirit onto the base."

Though the 52nd CES takes charge with the event, U.S. Air Force Captain Tanner Smith, 52nd CES operations flight chief and native of Peachtree City, Georgia, said the ceremony is a tradition and not a mission directive.

"The civilian contractors do it because they have the technical capabilities, and they're the only ones on base to do it," Smith said. "The bigger part of it is the support of our local-national work force and how they want to provide the tree to the base populace to get us all in the holiday spirit. Without that, there's no tree, no decoration, no ceremony, nothing like that on base. It's good camaraderie-building between local nationals and the U.S. military."

Jean Metzen, the 52nd CES operations flight deputy and native of Spangdahlem, Germany, gives insight as to the local community's stance on the matter.
"The guys who participate are pretty proud and happy to do the work," Metzen said. "It's not work: it's more like community relations. Especially in the community, the Germans are putting a lot of effort and work decorating the base."

Participants of the installation and decoration of the evergreen tree may not view their efforts as a task, but as a means to build friendship between the local community and the base, Smith said.

"That partnership and interaction is one of the best things about Spangdahlem," Smith said. "The local community relations and building partnership capacities - we couldn't do our mission here without the local national work force, and that's a fact. We build relationships with our German counterparts throughout the year, and the tree is just a small token of friendship."

Spangdahlem community members - to include active-duty members, families and contractors - viewed the handiworks of both communities during the ceremony as the tree illuminated the streets.

"I learned from my parents that the relationship we have - it's more like one family," Rodens said. "We help each other as a family. Yes, we have an American base in Spangdahlem, but to me, there is no difference between Americans and Germans. For us, it's family."