The commander of U.S. Africa Command hosted a reception for influential members of the local community in Stuttgart, Germany, Sept. 24, 2019.
AFRICOM Commander, U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, and top level officers under his command interacted with more than 50 German business leaders from the Baden-Württemberg chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham Germany).
“All our members have a high level of interest in meeting Americans,” said Oliver Karpf, an executive with Tiroler Bank and one of the AmCham chapter’s liaisons to the U.S. military.
These influencers represented various industries including banking, hospitality, government, manufacturing, media and retail. However, business networking was not the top priority, according to Karpf.
He said the most important part of the evening was being able to positively interact with American service members, since the “American Armed Forces are U.S. Ambassadors here in Europe”.
“We’re very happy to have you here today,” Townsend said. “My wife Melissa and I, it’s been our dream for 37 years of my military career, to come to an assignment in Germany. It took that whole time because there’s fewer and fewer Americans here.”
He said some of the current AmCham members can probably recall the ‘70s & ‘80s, when there were 300,000 U.S. troops in Germany, where as today there are only about 30,000 permanently stationed in all of Europe.
Karpf also touched on the declining U.S. footprint when recalling how 25, 30 years ago Americans were much more visible because they wore uniforms off base, drove American cars with U.S. license plates and stood out as Americans.
Bernhard Muthsam, business relations, Ernst & Young GmbH and Karpf’s AmCham liaison partner agreed with how challenging it is to meet Americans these days and explained why it’s important for events like this to bring Germans and Americans together.
“We consider the AFRICOM people, the EUCOM & Panzer people as our citizens, so it’s necessary to get in touch with them,” he said. “If you ask our members it’s very rare you get in touch with people from EUCOM or AFRICOM because we don’t realize there are Americans, so this event has been very exceptional.”
After opening remarks and a mission brief, Acting, Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Engagement, Mr. Russell Schiebel, U.S. Dept. of State, and USAID Senior Developmental Advisor, Barbara Hughes, discussed their agency’s work in Africa. Following their briefings, Schiebel and Hughes joined a panel of three AFRICOM leaders to respond to community interest in AFRICOM’s operations.
Once the question and answer session closed, Townsend addressed the group and thanked them for coming.
“Hopefully we’ve enlightened you a little bit about what AFRICOM is working on.” Townsend said. “I’m looking forward to continuing to mingle and answer more questions directly.”
The evening continued with dinner and more time to become acquainted with each other.
AmCham Germany is built on a foundation of American and German partnerships that strive to enhance global economic and trade relations. They work towards enabling cross-cultural understanding and cooperation in various business arenas.
Both Karpf and Muthsam said they would like to continue having receptions like this every two years and were happy to have the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with Americans living in Germany.
“Again, meeting Americans does not mean meeting foreigners,” Karpf said. “It’s like meeting family members.”