By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2006 – A German army officer who has donated money to a group affiliated with DoD's America Supports You organization plans to take a more personal role in confronting global terrorism. German 1st Lt. Jens Praetzas, 30, said he wants to join the U.S. Marine Corps as an enlisted person after his contract with the German army ends around this time next year.
"Theoretically, its no problem" joining the Marines, Praetzas said during an interview yesterday with American Forces Press Service at the Pentagon. Praetzas was on leave from his army unit and had arrived in the United States on July 16 for his first visit here. He said he'd already discussed his wish with people at Camp Pendleton, Calif. All freedom-loving people have a stake in the war against terrorism, Praetzas said. He added that he believes the conflict constitutes a struggle of democracy versus tyranny. He said his heart goes out to U.S. servicemembers who've paid the ultimate price for freedom while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
"This terrorism could happen not only in the States, it could happen all over the world," Praetzas said. "And, every country in the world which has got a democracy should take part in the war against terrorism." A possible hurdle that could thwart his goal of joining the Marines is obtaining a U.S. residence certificate, or "green card." He's sought to obtain one -- so far unsuccessfully -- via the lottery process.
Praetzas recalled making friends with U.S. servicemembers when he was in charge of a detail of German soldiers that had taken up guard duties at U.S. military installations in Germany at the end of 2003. This operation freed up American troops for deployment for other war-related duties.
Early in 2004, Praetzas was taking courses at Hamburg University when he read about Operation Air Conditioner, a non-profit U.S. servicemember-support organization, in an Army Times article. He immediately sent the group an e-mail asking what he could do. He has sent the group $50 per month ever since. Operation AC was founded in June 2003 by military mom and Delaware resident Frankie Mayo, who participated in the interview with Praetzas. Her son, Chris Tomlinson, now a sergeant in the Delaware Army National Guard, had served a tour of duty in Iraq when he was on active duty.
Mayo said Operation AC got its name when it sent 11 window-unit air conditioners to her son's unit in Iraq to combat summer daytime temperatures that could reach as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Operation AC has since shipped more than 9,400 air conditions to U.S. troops overseas. Operation AC continues to support overseas-deployed U.S. servicemembers by providing food, clothes and other requested items, Mayo said. The organization also is a member of the Defense Department-sponsored America Supports You program, which highlights corporate and grassroots support for U.S. servicemembers and their families.
Mayo said Operation AC regularly receives phone calls and e-mails from citizens around the globe offering help. But, she said, Praetzas was "the first member of a foreign military service that ever wanted to really do anything." Before yesterday' interview, Praetzas and Mayo toured Arlington National Cemetery. There, they visited the gravesite of Army Capt. John R. Teal. Teal was the son of a friend of Mayo's. He was killed in Iraq on Oct. 23, 2003. Afterward visiting Arlington, the pair toured the Pentagon.
Praetzas' said his desire to help America fight terrorists shouldn't be construed as unusual. He cited a natural camaraderie and bond shared among military people the world over. Mayo agreed. "People around the world are looking for an outlet where we can join together in this fight against terrorism, because it's not going away," she said.