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It’s a statement German Air Force Lt. Col. Ulrich Schmidt hears often when he’s out and about in uniform – “I didn’t know we had members of the German Air Force stationed here.”

Since 1961 to be exact, but for Schmidt that tenure has been a bit shorter – since October, when he took over as the director of the German Patriot Office. Schmidt will serve a three-year tour at Redstone, leading the small office, which includes three German soldiers, two German civilians and one American civilian. It is an assignment he volunteered for.

“From my point of view, it’s a combination of working again in the area of ground-based air defense, and my specific weapon system, and I also wanted the chance to have additional time in the States,” he said.

Schmidt joined the German Air Force in 1986, and received his master’s degree in electrical engineering. He went on to join the German Air Force Air Defense, specializing in the Patriot system as well as Missile Defense.

“At that time I was looking for the responsibility, which you will get while you are serving in the armed forces,” Schmidt said. “Part of my motivation came from the divided Germany and the Cold War scenario, which was in place at that time. On the other hand, I looked forward to the career chances, like university, salary and the opportunity to go abroad. At that time it was very clear if I joined the German Air Force, especially the ground-based air defense forces, I would have to go to the States.”

It was a wish that was granted as he traveled to El Paso, Texas, to receive his training in ground-based air defense, and later attended the Air University in Montgomery. Throughout his career he has been stationed all over Germany, and today spends a typical day in Huntsville coming together with U.S. partners, working on behalf of the Patriot system in Germany. Other Patriot user nations also have a presence on Redstone, such as Schmidt’s.

Schmidt will serve in the German Air Force until he reaches pension age, 61. The German armed forces has a pension system, which forces an individual decision at some point in time to stay until retirement. Normally, this point will be reached after serving 12 to 15 years in the armed forces.

“There’s nothing in between,” Schmidt said. “At that time I was a squadron commander, and I liked working with the young soldiers, taking over responsibility, building a team and framing leadership. There was no doubt that I wanted to stay.”

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