I’m sharing this post, originally written on Blogspot on August 5, 2016, because I think it’s a really cool story that is relevant to my experience in Germany. Keep in mind that it appears here as/is, as I am certain General West has moved on from Fort Eustis. I will also share a follow up post written at the same time.
This morning, I was reading the Daily Press, which is the newspaper from my hometown community. I noticed an article about Lieutenant General Nadja Y. West, who recently gave a speech at Fort Eustis in honor of the 596th Transportation Brigade’s Women’s Equality Day observance. LTG West is the first black lieutenant general and the highest ranking female to ever graduate from West Point and she once commanded the hospital (now clinic) at Fort Eustis, an Army post that is near and dear to my heart because I grew up nearby. LTG West is a medical doctor who is currently the surgeon general of the Army. Her husband is retired COL Donald West. I see them as quite a power couple!
Anyway, as I was listening to LTG West speak on a video that was posted with the article I was reading, I realized that she appeared to be the product of a German and American partnership. She is clearly biracial and, in fact, has the sort of willowy look of so many German women I’ve seen. Also, her first name “Nadja” is a very German name.
I went looking to find out what her background is and learned that yes, indeed, her biological parents were a German woman and African American man who was posted to Germany with the Army. Sadly, LTG West was left orphaned when she was a baby. At nine months old, she was adopted by Oscar and Mabel Grammer. Oscar Grammer was a Chief Warrant Officer who worked with the Army in Germany and Mabel Grammer was a civil rights activist and journalist. The couple adopted twelve interracial children in Germany and arranged for the adoption of 500 more by families in the United States. LTG West was the youngest of the twelve children adopted by the Grammers.
Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met are biracial. LTG West is clearly very attractive, but she’s also incredibly accomplished. I’m sure the people who created her had no idea how far their daughter would eventually go in life.
Having grown up in the southern United States, I’ve seen my share of racism. Germany is not immune to racism, although it seems to be directed more toward Middle Eastern people than folks of African descent. One is much more likely to hear a German disparage someone from Turkey or Syria than a black person.
Many German women seem to really be attracted to black men. In fact, I remember when we moved to North Carolina, one of the movers was a very friendly black guy. When I mentioned that we’d once lived in Germany, he laughed and said with a big smile, “German women love black men!” I have since met a number of people who were born to German and African American parents. In fact, a lot of the people I’ve met have been affiliated with the United States military, especially the Army. The Army sends a lot more of its people to Germany than the other service branches do.
One of the things I have enjoyed about my years as an “Army wife” is the diversity of people affiliated with the military. Because servicemembers go all over the world, they often end up in relationships with people from other countries. Naturally, some places are more represented than others. For instance, there are a lot of Japanese and Korean women who have married American servicemen (and it is, more often than not, women who marry men, though there are certainly exceptions). I do know one Dutch guy whose wife is an Air Force officer. I’ve run into plenty of British folks, a couple of Italians and Greeks, and one or two Portuguese married to Americans, courtesy of the military. And I have several German friends who married Americans.
Someone has probably already done this, but I think it would be interesting to see the breakdown of international love matches that occur between American servicemembers and host country nationals. Naturally, not all of these “matches” work out. I have one friend who barely knows her father, a Puerto Rican/African American Army veteran. She grew up in Germany not really knowing her father, though she did eventually reconcile with him to some extent.
A lot of people who have no experience with military folks think that they are a bunch of knuckle dragging lunkheads. What I’ve found is that the military is full of people from diverse backgrounds and many are open-minded and intelligent. It’s true that a lot of veterans are people who come from small towns without much opportunity. Many people join the military to escape poverty or bankroll an education. But then they end up in faraway places where they meet and mingle with the locals. They collaborate to create another subset of diverse people.
The same thing happened in my Peace Corps group. About half a dozen people who went to Armenia with me ended their service married to host country nationals. Many people think of the Peace Corps as a very liberal group, and it’s true that a lot of Volunteers are pretty politically liberal. However, in some ways, the Peace Corps shares some similarities with the military. It’s very obviously a government agency. In fact, PCVs even take the same oath military servicemembers do. I have been surprised to find Bill working with at least one of my former Peace Corps colleagues, who went on to work for USAID.
I have an Italian friend who constantly disparages the military. He thinks it’s full of idiots who just want to destroy the world. As someone who grew up an Air Force brat and later married an Army officer, I have found that many people with experience in the military are well-traveled and open-minded. The ones who stay in the military tend to be pretty savvy about world affairs, and they often have opinions shaped by real life experiences outside of the United States. I know a lot of people think the US military should leave foreign postings, but I think these opportunities to live and work abroad are good for American society. Too many people in the United States never go anywhere and see anything. At least people in the military get the opportunity to look beyond the borders.
Hanging out on a military base can be an interesting cultural experience. Hell, just shopping at a commissary stateside is interesting, especially when you walk down the international food aisle. You’ll find a number of exotic products stocked for the spouses of servicemember Americans who came from somewhere else.
I think it’s really excellent that LTG Nadja West has done so well in her career. I enjoyed learning about her, and would probably find her fascinating to talk to. She’s quite a role model for all women.
ETA: I just read the obituary for West’s mother, Mabel Grammer, which I linked to earlier in this post. I highly recommend reading it if you’re intrigued. She was clearly an amazing woman.