From Detroit to a new home in Europe, but soon to return

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By Anna Rusinowski
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In October of 2010 I moved to Kaiserslautern, Germany as a girl with a dream to see more of the world. Kaiserslautern and its surrounding area serve the largest American community outside of the United States with over 50,000 military families. Ramstein Air Force Base (AFB) is the Headquarters (HQ) for the US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) and also for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Europe. US Military presence has been in this region of Germany since WWII. As the wartime cooperation between the US and the Soviet Union ended and tensions between the two countries mounted, the US came to see Soviet expansionism as a threat to its own interests and began shaping a new policy which was implemented in 1947. American reaction resulted in the Truman Doctrine, which called for large-scale military and economic assistance in Germany in order to prevent the spread of communism.
Prior to my move, I had started to feel the monotony of everyday work life. I started to yearn for a change, for a chance to experience more of the world, and an opportunity to grow professionally but more importantly personally. I had not always seen myself doing something as extreme as moving to Europe, or anywhere for that matter; I was comfortable and happy in Detroit being an active member in Polonia and starting my career in my position as a contract specialist with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Command (TACOM) in Warren, MI.

However, my adventurous spirit kept gnawing at this pipe dream and when I learned of the program offered for overseas federal civilian jobs, the fact my home agency (TACOM) could “lend” me out on a 3-5 year contract and I was then guaranteed “return rights” to the same job at TACOM, I realized I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I applied for jobs all over Europe and waited and waited. My excitement started to fade; people started advising me on how slim my chances were for actually landing one of those “overseas jobs”. I started to justify not getting the job was the safer and the more conservative option for me anyways. But I did tell myself, if I get any job, I’m going, I could never waste the opportunity.
I finally got “the call” late one afternoon in May. My soon to be boss, in his friendly excited voice said “Hello Ms. Rusinowski is this you? This is the call you’ve probably been waiting for…are you ready to move to Germany?” My heart skipped a beat. No hard interview questions that I had prepared for and anticipated. An invitation to join the US Air Force (AF) in Europe as a contract specialist procuring medical services for our troops! I had 48 hours to officially accept the offer, knowing this was my ticket to my European adventure.

The day I said my tearful goodbyes to my family and got on my flight to Frankfurt was a very important day for me. I felt like a snake shedding its skin moving into this new life chapter. I was taking a very large risk, this leap of faith that I would not only survive but thrive. My faith is the only thing I had to trust that this journey was mine. This empowered me to embrace the experience instead of being afraid of the unknown.
Landing in Frankfurt, my real journey began. It was chaotic, hard to understand any communications and I was exhausted from the trans-Atlantic flight. The shuttle ride was quiet, as I sat studying my new host country. I did not really know what to expect of Germany and its people. As a proud Pole, I have an understanding and empathy for our Polish history with the Germans. That history is hard to see past, however, I realized the only way to understand our pasts and them as a people was to be open and forgiving.

As we drove through Germany’s landscape of rolling hills, lush forest, vineyards and every so often castle ruins nestled on a hill top, it had been a long time since I had seen this kind of natural beauty. This felt completely opposite of the industrialized, concrete jungle I had just left behind. This felt deeply simple. The shuttle winded around the two lane hilltop route, passing Bavarian style villas with pastures, until we stopped in front of an old house in a tiny village called Ramstein-Miesenbach. This area in the southwestern corner of Germany known as the “Rheinland-Pfalz” region is nestled in the Palestine Forest close to Bavaria. It is also known as Germany’s “wine country” with a famous wine route that runs hundreds of kilometers along the Mosel River.

I started work immediately with USAFE’s largest contracting office in Europe (700 CONS) which supports AF missions throughout Europe (numerous bases in Germany, the United Kingdom (UK), Turkey and Spain). The work environment was unique as it is a mix of military, Local Nations (LNs)-German civilians and US civilians like me. I initially worked on a team to procure medical services such as doctors and nurses from the US to work in various US military clinics overseas, as one of the largest military hospitals is located at Ramstein AFB which serves all the wounded warriors flown in from Afghanistan. At first, work was very challenging, I had learned the Army’s way of buying vehicles and services, however, the AF here had fewer resources, less procedures in place and a completely different mission. Not only did I quickly have to get educated on how the medical industry worked, but intelligently understand local German laws and procedures to ensure the contracts we wrote for the US government were in compliance with host nation laws. After almost a year, I was promoted to a “team lead” position of the large services team supporting the Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC), managing workload for 3 other contract specialists. Our team also administered 17 contracts across USAFE valued at over $20M. I executed a $6.5M mission critical 5-year Terminal Security contract, supporting terminal security at Ramstein AFB for 54,000 passengers daily moving through the EU and to the Middle East.

In the summer of 2011, I heard of promotional opportunities with the Army contracting office in Kaiserslautern (409th Contracting Support Brigade (CSB)). I decided it was best for my career to apply, as my “promotion” with the AF had been additional responsibilities with no increase in pay. I landed the job as a “team lead” for the Theater Wide Logistics Division, which meant I oversaw 10 contract specialists managing a workload of over $100M for United States Army Europe (USAREUR). This was one of the most challenging times both professionally and personally for me. The pressure of a high stress management position brought a lot of responsibility that I had not been prepared for. The late hours, working weekends, lack of sleep, and lack of free time started to affect me negatively. I also lost my Grandmother, my father’s mother who had been one of the most influential women in my life during this time. Her passing was my reality check that I cannot continue living to work but work so I can live happy. I finally made the decision I had to regain a healthy work/life balance again and I no longer wanted to work in this position. I started to look for other opportunities.

In August of 2012 a great opportunity opened back up at my previous AF office as a “lead contract specialist” managing the largest re-procurement in USAFE’s portfolio. The current Base Maintenance contract, supporting numerous AF bases both in Turkey and Spain would expire in a year and they were behind in establishing this new monster contract. I applied for this position not expecting to hear back, as rumor had it that anyone who leaves the AF as I had, betrayed their loyalty. A few weeks after applying, my former AF boss called me and asked when I’d be ready to start!

My new role as a “lead” on this acquisition to establish an 8-year contract estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars supporting various Air Base (AB) Wings in remote locations in both Turkey and in Spain proved to be very interesting work. US relations with Syria were starting to sour during this time, so new military security policies were starting to be implemented. The complexity of complying with US Federal Acquisition regulations while also interpreting and complying with Turkish and Spanish labor laws, understanding the best ways to save the Government money on managing two separate foreign workforces and doing this on a ridiculously short suspense was proving to be difficult. I found doing business outside of the United States, especially on such a high visibility project and with the respective host nation governments playing a much larger role then I was used to, made for a difficult bargaining situation. The highlight for me was the opportunity to travel with my team plus 40 US contractors to all the bases in Turkey (Adana, Ankara and Izmir) and Spain (Seville). I got to see the Syrian border, see where weapon systems are stored, visit Ataturk’s Tomb Mausoleum in Ankara, Turkey and had a few warm days in January in the southern Spanish sun.

Due to furlough and other reorganizations, I was reassigned to a vacant position in my office’s policy department this past October 2013. I now work as a procurement analyst, which is more of a policy reviewer and trainer. I train my squadron (40+ military) on contracting techniques and on any new policies that need to be implemented from AF HQ in Washington DC. This job has made me step out of my comfort zone and let me blossom into a mentorship role.
The professional and personal experiences I have obtained have enriched my life in ways I could not have imagined the day I left. I have visited 15 countries in Europe, have skied in the Alps with my Mom, had Thanksgiving dinner in a tiny café overlooking the Eiffel Tower, swam in some of the bluest waters off the Greek Isles, participated in the beautification mass for Pope John Paul II in Rome, started to like escargot (snails-who knew?), ran my first half marathon through Paris, hiked to the mouth of a glacier in Switzerland, visited Chopin’s house in Majorca, Spain, seen the bright lights of Monte Carlo in Monaco, had a traditional polish wigilia with my family in Gdansk and experienced a real German Oktoberfest and their beer.

I have met so many good people including Germans who have offered hospitality, friendship, help and translations when I needed it the most. I have become close to the Kaiserslautern Polonia as there is a polish chapel on the Pulaski barracks where my office is located. I have also learned the most about myself that I had underestimated myself for too long. My contract here will expire in 2014 and I plan to move back to Detroit and continue my career back with the US Army TACOM. It will be hard for me to leave this foreign place I now call home. I have found something here that feeds my adventurous spirit daily. This experience is one I will forever be grateful for and will remember these days as some of the best days of my life.

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