Teachers, Students Mark 50 Years of Educating Military Children
By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 1996 Rex Gleason knows what it's like to build from scratch. Assigned to Munich, Germany, during the mid-1940s, Gleason often watched as the Bavarian people sifted through the rubble of World War II to rebuild their capital and their lives.
Gleason didn't wear an American military uniform in 1946 when he arrived in Munich to start his own building project. He was a schoolteacher, sent to help build an American school program for kids of service members assigned in Munich. His goal -- to build a school and build minds.
"We had very little to go on," said Gleason, who not only taught American children, but also supervised 18 boys in a Munich-based school dormitory. "We had to scrounge for everything -- schoolbooks, supplies, even furniture. There wasn't a lot available in Germany during that time, and you had to use what you could find."
What he found, however, were great students, great friends and memories lasting beyond his 1975 retirement.
There are many stories like Gleason's -- stories retold recently in Washington when teachers, administrators and former students celebrated the Department of Defense Dependents Schools 50th anniversary. As part of its year-round celebration, the DoD Education Activity will promote events stateside and overseas that honor the work of Gleason and hundreds of others in providing high quality education to military children.
"We're here to pay tribute not only to DoDDS, the organization, but to the scores of special people who have made it the success it is today," said Lillian Gonzalez, DoD Education Activity director. "Our celebration this year is an expression of appreciation to all of you. This unique and powerful partnership forged 50 years ago remains one of this family's hallmark."
From its austere beginnings, DoDDS moved from shacks and Quonset huts to today's modern school structures. As more service members and their families deployed to Europe, Asia and Latin America, DoDDS teachers also traveled. They went to keep a touch of American education style in a foreign land.
Today, base closures and troop reductions are changing the size and existence of DoDDS schools overseas. In the past decade, the system closed schools in Gleason's beloved Munich and Nuremberg, Germany. Where two high schools once served Stuttgart, Germany (Stuttgart and Patch American High Schools), only Patch remains. Closings continue as U.S. forces further reduce their numbers overseas.
Still, DoD Education Activity officials said nearly 83,000 students will attend DoDDS classes this year. As the 1996-97 school year begins, the system will operate 167 elementary, junior high and high school facilities worldwide.
"We are producing -- year after year -- bright, able responsible young people," said Deputy Defense Secretary John White. "The success to our students is the reward they get for their hard work in school. It's a tribute to their parents, but fundamentally, it is the product of the able, inspiring and commited teachers and administrators who support this system."
It's teachers like Glynn Turquand, who spent most of his 30-year career teaching students (and faculty) in the Far East. Turquand described his duties as those of an ambassador -- dealing with local residents on school issues and passing those issues to his students and fellow teachers.
Although he spent some time in the Philippines, where, like Gleason, he had to scrounge for books and supplies, Turquand called his time in Japan the best years of his life. "Back then, the Japanese were quite busy preparing for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, yet they also knew we were dealing with the John F. Kennedy assassination, and many took time to show their concern and friendship. It was a friendship we continued to build through the years and continues today," said Turquand.
Turquand also said the DoDDS faculty in Japan became a close-knit family, traveling together during school breaks and vacationing at many Asian areas. As one of the faculty's senior members, Turquand received requests to be "father of the bride" at 10 weddings involving DoDDS teachers. "Those are the things I remember most," he said. "That and the [retirement] paycheck."
For Prudence Bickel, currently a teacher and counselor at SHAPE American High School in Mons, Belgium, just hearing the stories of teachers like Gleason and Turquand is inspiration to continue.
"Sometimes you look at what you're doing and you feel unappreciated," said Bickel. "Then you hear the 'something from nothing' stories, and it inspires you to think you can do more for your kids and the school. It's this kind of event really shows teachers and students that we do play important roles in guiding their [children's] lives.
There are also the stories from the "brats" -- the loyal following of DoDDS alumni. Whether they are children of service members or DoDDS teachers, they are quick to boast of the quality of education through the military system.
"I went to six different schools in two years, and I would never exchange what I learned in those two years for anything," said Jo Wilson Emerson. A DoDDS student in Eta Jima and Sasebo, Japan, during the mid-50s, Emerson said one of those schools was on an island. "It was the only thing on the island, and we had to take a boat to school every day just to attend classes."
Emerson was in Washington for a convention of former DoDDS students -- a meeting coinciding with the system's 50-year celebration. "The biggest advantage to my DoDDS years was that the education was well-grounded," she said. "What they emphasized and what you learned was the basics -- nothing fancy. We got some foreign language to help us in our local communities, but a majority was the basics and that's what got us through."
As former teachers met with past colleagues and today's teachers, many said they see DoDDS education quality getting better. It's a commitment Gonzalez said she hopes to maintain at all schools worldwide.
"DoDDS will continue as a cornerstone for quality of life in overseas locations," she said. "This glorious history ... chronicles the journey of our family through 50 years of uncertainty and conflict, prosperity and peace, challenge and change. Through it all, a strong and powerful bond is the legacy of this family who has so proudly served for half a century the children of our defense families."