Belgians, Americans 'living the dream' at 701st MUNSS

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Most anniversaries for Belgium in 2014 bear very somber undertones: a plane crash, a costly liberation, the loss of a family members and friends gone way too soon. It all comes at a great expense, underscoring how freedom is never free.

The last time Belgians and Americans presumably took arms in combat in this particular Limburg field, they most likely did so during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944-1945.

And for this one occasion on the same countryside stained by the blood of patriots some 70 summers earlier, they'd meet again--but warfare would be replaced with three-legged races, rifles with Frisbees and soldiers for their great-great grandchildren.

701st MUNSS celebrates 'Belgian-American Friendship Day' 

While it may not be an outright reflection on remembering those who went before them, the day's events could only have been afforded by those earlier sacrifices and as a means to honor them.

Gray skies and cool sleet couldn't dissuade more than 200 U.S. Air Force and Belgian Armed Forces Air Component service members and families as they celebrated the 701st Munitions Support Squadron's Belgian-American Friendship day here June 27.

The tradition dates back more than 60 years - a festivity commemorating less of a specific date and more about the two countries' close ties, stemming from the Allied liberation of the country in World War II.

"On behalf of the 701st MUNSS, we're proud to host this celebration in recognition of more than six decades of Belgian-American partnership here at Kleine Brogel Air Base," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Kenneth Benton, 701st MUNSS commander. "We are honored to consider you not only as our brothers- and sisters-in-arms, but as our close friends and family."

The event is a result of the larger bilateral agreement between both countries, as the Americans operate on the installation maintained and provided by the Belgians.

701st MUNSS celebrates 'Belgian-American Friendship Day' 

"I remember going to this event since I was five years old," said Jean Dreesen, 701st MUNSS interpreter and assistant housing officer from Kleine-Brogel. "I was born just 500 meters from the base. My dad was a janitor here. I dreamed to work here some day. I really wished I could do this for the rest of my life."

Dreesen got his wish when he officially joined the base's bilateral work staff in 1984 and has attended the annual event ever since.

"When people hear about Kleine Brogel, the first thing they think about is 'Americans' - we haven't known anything else," Dreesen said. "As a kid, I remember GIs always being around. My best friends were American kids who played on our same soccer team. The Americans are a part of our lives, and their presence here is a part of us."

For a day marking coalition partnerships, there's a refreshing lack of flags - a cliché used as the last refuge for desperate decorators to litter everything from booths to silverware. Yet the organizers didn't rely on patriotic fixtures alone to make the day stand out: they based the event on friendships forged in war and more than half a century of being allies.

701st MUNSS celebrates 'Belgian-American Friendship Day' 

The event kicked off with people testing their accuracy with a baseball or soccer ball at a dunk booth.

701st MUNSS celebrates 'Belgian-American Friendship Day' 

A young Belgian boy effortlessly kicked a soccer ball at the dunk booth's target, both sending a volunteer into a chilly pool of water as well as a shiver down some American spines as they realize their national team would soon face the Belgians on the world stage.

701st MUNSS celebrates 'Belgian-American Friendship Day' 

Next to children in the bouncy castle, older kids and adults test their accuracy hurling sacks of beans across a field to hit a wooden target. The regional debate in the States about calling it "beanbag toss" or "corn hole" escaped those who unfamiliar to the language-- but to everyone there, it was just another game.

701st MUNSS celebrates 'Belgian-American Friendship Day' 

The more grown-up revelers loitered near the beverage tent, trading war stories and speculations over pale lagers and frothy monk-brewed ales. Despite the fact that the U.S.'s renowned "King of Beers" has been Belgian-owned since 2008, that claim is neither a bragging right for one side or a sore spot for the other.

Nor is the fact that circumstance pitted both countries against each other in the next round of the World Cup the following week. (For the record, Belgium defeated America 2-1 during their high-stakes July 1 faceoff. Belgium would later be defeated by Argentina 1-0 July 5.)

And the same could be said for not only what each citizen says but in the language they use to say it. Occasionally, a recently-arrived American will say "Merci" or "Bonjour" to accommodate their hosts, despite the region's predominant Flemish culture and prevalent use of the Dutch language.

In fact, perhaps the most French attendee at the fair wasn't even human. But even Roskoe, a French Bulldog owned by an American family, didn't need to master a language to convey his delight at being petted by a passerby or his satisfaction after gobbling up a discarded bit of a cupcake or steak.

701st MUNSS celebrates 'Belgian-American Friendship Day' 

The dog isn't alone as the smell of fresh food wafts through the atmosphere and human revelers often make double takes while trying to decide which country's delicacy they wanted to enjoy first.

A cook's red eyes singe from slicing fresh onions over a grill - the smoke and taste caking his sweaty face as he wipes away perspiration and tears so he could focus on his job of satisfying hungry customers.

701st MUNSS celebrates 'Belgian-American Friendship Day' 

Next to that booth of tears, another chef serves regional flavors like crispy deep-fried sausage or potato sticks. His fellow cook tosses a fresh batch of fries in a bowl and then shakes them in the air. The golden potato slices dance in the air dashing out granules of salt crystals and oil droplets to add to the already-enticing aroma.

701st MUNSS celebrates 'Belgian-American Friendship Day' 

While waiting for the fries, customers decide which condiments to douse their crunchified meals like ketchup, mustard and more types of mayonnaise than most Americans are accustomed to.

Yet aside from any differences in language, food or sports, there's more that unites the people at Kleine Brogel than divides them. Both countries fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft as part of the base's 10th Tactical Wing and the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.

Their shared mission goes deep within the 701st MUNSS - so much that the squadron's patch borrows more from their hosts. With the exception of the English wording "LEADING THE WAY," the logo boasts Leo Belgicus, the national symbol, over the blue and white North Star, representing the NATO alliance.

And for a geographically separated unit assigned to the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, the Airmen of the 701st MUNSS don't appear to show any signs of separation anxiety in the company of their Belgian hosts.

"We often organize groups to go off base and help with cleanups to show we care," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Pamela Seegel, 701st MUNSS supply chief and Panama City, Panama, native. "This is a chance for them to come on base and see there's more to it."

Seegel, who had been at Kleine Brogel for two-and-a-half years, collect Euros for food and drink tickets not just to prospective customers but to their neighbors, landlords and friends.

"This is the biggest BAF day that I've seen," she said. "We've always invited a local band as entertainment and held this in a smaller field on the base."

701st MUNSS celebrates 'Belgian-American Friendship Day'

The tradition of local bands serenading the revelers would change for 2014 with the best that the U.S. had to offer - as determined by a nationwide TV vote. In fact, David Cook's margin of victory in the seventh season of "American Idol" exceeded President Obama's during the presidential election that same year.

The singer wailed out original tracks from his last album "This Loud Morning", as well as strains of Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll."

"We are completely honored to be here and come out and make some noise for you guys," Cook said. "I'm not sure this is the taste of home you're looking for, but we're still honored to be here."

701st MUNSS celebrates 'Belgian-American Friendship Day' 

With the band winding down, the booths closing shop and the evening generally taking its course, another BAF day gets filed in the history book of the base. Whether it raised the most money or was attended by the most people is not the prime concern.

Ultimately, Dreesen said the day focused on one theme between the two countries: unity.

"We are side-by-side," he said. "And I'm living the dream."

To see more photos from the event, visit the photo set at Spangdahlem's Flickr page .