MARTINSBURG, W. Va. --
Once opponents, the United States and Germany have grown a close alliance since the end of World War II. For more than three decades, their respective military members have learned from one another through a structured exchange program.
This year, two 167th Airlift Wing officers were afforded the opportunity to participate in one of several exchange programs with U.S. allies.
The Military Reserve Exchange Program (MREP), established in 1985, between the U.S. Department of Defense and the German Ministry of Defense, creates people-to-people ties that help sustain that alliance, while promoting professional development and cultural education for it participants. The highly selective program typically swaps 22 officers annually for the event.
Lt. Col. James Freid-Studlo, the 167th Airlift Wing inspector general, was notified of his selection to participate in the program last March.
He was paired with Lt. Col. Teddy Wundenberg, a maintenance officer for Helicopter Wing 64 located in Laupheim, Germany.
Wundenberg has a strong quality assurance background, similar to the functions of the inspector general program here, Freid-Studlo explained.
Freid-Studlo coordinated Wundenberg's visit to the U.S. and to the 167th AW so that he could participate in the wing's "flyaway" deployment training exercise in Alpena, Michigan, last June.
"As many of the wing members know, he functioned as a guest inspector, participating fully in our full-spectrum readiness exercise. His insights were invaluable, especially to our maintenance group personnel," Freid-Studlo said.
Wundenberg spent about three weeks in the U.S. In addition to traveling with the wing to Alpena, he toured all of the units at the Martinsburg, West Virginia, air base, flew on a low-level C-17 aircraft training sortie and tested his piloting skills in the wing's flight simulator.
Wundenberg said he appreciated the opportunity to meet so many people and look over their shoulders as they worked.
"James Freid-Studlo did an amazing job of getting me around and getting to know people. I asked a lot of questions about things around here. I didn't expect this kind of openness," he said.
Maj. Christopher Tusing, commander for the 167th Logistics Readiness Squadron, was one of the people Wundenberg got to know while he was visiting the wing.
Simultaneously, Tusing was planning an upcoming trip to Ramstein, Germany, for some of his logistics personnel during Wundenberg's visit. He was able to work with Wundenberg on some of the trip details.
When Freid-Studlo, who was slated to go to Germany with the MREP in September, was grounded with a medical issue, Tusing was a logical replacement.
"I was blessed to have Maj. Chris Tusing volunteer to take my place. He and Teddy had developed a great relationship while Teddy was visiting the 167th so it was great we could get him over to Germany," Freid-Studlo said.
It was the relationship established with Wundenberg during his visit that Tusing credits for the success of his experience in Germany.
"I was able to hit the ground running in Germany because I had already established that connection with Teddy," Tusing said.
Tusing, who described the trip as "a walk through the pages of history," spent 15 days in Germany.
"It was a great balance of work and cultural immersion," he said.
Tusing's visit started in Berlin at the German Ministry of Defense where he, along with the other MREP participants, were briefed on the MREP and Germany's national defense strategy.
From there, they were given a guided tour of Berlin, making stops at numerous historical sites including the Berlin Wall, Stasi Prison, Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie.
Tusing then traveled to Wundenberg's unit in Laupheim. There he observed their maintenance, logistics and flying operations. He was able to spend time with his counterparts and have discussions about the similarities and differences in their procedures.
"I was truly surprised to see how similar our operations are," Tusing said.
Wundenberg also drew parallels between the German and U.S. military operations.
"The culture and camaraderie feels pretty to similar to what we have here," Wundenberg said.
He also noted some of the countries' differences. In Germany there are no reserve units. Reservists do their duty at active duty bases serving as temporary fill-ins for their active counterparts.
"Another big difference is we have about 170,000 soldiers and civilians. That doesn't even cover what you have in the Reserve and Guard so it's on a whole different scale," Wundenberg said.
But, the intent of the MREP is for participants to find commonalities, opportunities for cooperation and build relationships. Freid-Studlo, Tusing and Wundenberg have certainly done that.
"Any time we would meet on a deployment, it would be very easy to work together due to the similarities and due to our common understanding of our work and due to the friendships that we've developed," Wundenberg said.
Freid-Studlo didn't express disappointment that he couldn't travel to Germany. Instead he noted what a great experience it was for him to introduce Wundenberg to the members of the 167th AW and to share the wing's deployment training exercise with him.
"From a historical perspective it was amazing to think that Teddy's father, grandfather, and great grandfather had all fought against America in both World Wars, and here he was now as one of our closest allies, sharing in the jubilation of completing our first flyaway in nearly a decade," Freid-Studlo said.