On the Front Lines
By Lena Basha
Volume 141, No. 2, March/April 2007, Page 5
Married to an Air Force Officer for the past 20 years, Janice Speer is an expert at moving. But nothing could have prepared her for relocating to Germany almost three years ago.
“There is no culture shock like moving to Europe,” she says. “It’s very challenging to get set up here.”
When she first moved to Kaiserslautern, Germany, with her husband, Major Larry Speer, and son, Nolan, Mrs. Speer couldn’t figure out the German drain system or why wires under the neighborhood cars were mysteriously cut. Moles, it turned out, caused the latter, but no one had prepared her.
“If someone doesn’t tell you, you may never figure it out on your own,” she says. “We’re the only Americans on our street, and not everyone speaks English. It can be isolating—and intimidating. I didn’t want anyone else to be faced with that challenge.”
Mrs. Speer acted fast to make sure the families who followed her wouldn’t be as in the dark as she was. She created a welcome committee for her husband’s unit, the 76th Airlift Squadron. The committee assembled welcome packets with answers on everything from where to send your kids to school to where to get an oil change—and warnings about those pesky moles.
As soon as she figured out the nuances of life in Europe, Mrs. Speer started volunteering weekly as a critical-care nurse at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the first point of care for combat-related injuries to soldiers fighting the War on Terror.
What she’s most known for around Ramstein Air Base, though, is chairing the 2006 Ramstein Officer’s Spouses Club Welfare Bazaar, which is the most successful military fund-raising event in Europe. After nine months of planning, the annual bazaar brought 137 vendors from all over Europe—and even one from Korea—to the base for a four-day shopping extravaganza. The bazaar raised more than $318,000 for the local American community.
Mrs. Speer’s dedication to her community has not gone unnoticed. In 2006 she was named the Joan Orr Air Force Spouse of the Year for all U.S. Air Forces in Europe, and she has been nominated again to compete for the 2007 award.
“All of the ladies who were nominated were extraordinary, so to be chosen was absolutely thrilling,” she says.
She was honored more recently with a visit from DAR President General Presley Merritt Wagoner, who toured Landstuhl Regional Medical Center last November and presented a $25,000 check to the Landstuhl Wounded Warriors Project, which provides new clothes and other needed items to injured soldiers who arrive at the hospital for treatment.
A member of the Palatinate Chapter, Ramstein, Germany, Mrs. Speer chairs her chapter’s DAR Project Patriot Committee, which helps collect needed items and funds for the Wounded Warriors Project.
“As chairwoman, I get in touch with the organizers and ask them what they need the most. I also make the deliveries—in some cases, directly to the ICU. I always try to take pictures to show everyone how helpful their donations are.”
Her husband will retire from the Air Force in May, when she and her family will move back to the United States. They haven’t decided where yet, but Mrs. Speer knows what she’ll be doing as soon as she returns.
“Talking to Mrs. Wagoner, I got so excited about getting more involved in the DAR,” she says. “What an amazing group of ladies they are.”
Credit: Photo by Megan M. Carrico, SrA, USAF