JET-HI: PEOPLE TO PEOPLE DIPLOMACY (# 3)

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As it turned out, during that fall, 1991, visit of Russian teens and adults to Ramstein American High School in Ramstein, Germany, the Champagnes and I were not the only ones becoming increasingly aware of the dire straits faced by many of the citizens of Ivanovo.  Interest in helping just snowballed!  The effort became known as JET-HI, Joint Effort to Help Ivanovo.

Initially, Lynn and I envisioned maybe getting one or two truckloads of humanitarian goods to a Russian airfield in East Germany where a Russian plane would pick up the stuff and fly it to Ivanovo.  (The difficulties of getting trucks through the East German countryside, then through Poland and the Ukraine made simply trucking the stuff impractical.)

The German village of Ramstein is part of a far larger geographical area dominated by the city of Kaiserslautern. The Kaiserslautern area provides a temporary home for thousands of Americans.  It is, in fact, the largest American community outside the United States.  Moreover, there are several other American facilities within, say, a 70-mile radius.

Ultimately, we had trucks set up in all those communities to collect food, clothing, and necessities such as OTC medicines and vitamins.  Mind you, it could not have happened without the wholehearted support of the military itself, especially Jim Murphy, whose daughter was my MUN president that year; John Gravlee, and Alex Carothers, whose wives were on the RAHS faculty with me.  Plus a host of men and women who worked with them!  The base authorities turned over for our use a small, temporarily unused warehouse to store goods as we collected, sorted, labeled, and boxed things up.  Dozens of military people as well as their dependents and other civilians were involved in this process. (At one point I laid aside my denim jacket and it somehow got grabbed up!)  The whole thing became truly a community project.  And the German communities were involved as well; German businesses donated hundreds of pounds of such things as sugar and shoes.

Early on, it was clear that the initial idea of “a couple of trucks” meeting a small Russian plane in Winsdorf was proving to be a gross underestimation.  The most practical solution for transporting the goods was to have the Russians pick up these goods in Ramstein.  But how?

Remember: this was happening a mere two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and there was still a great deal of antipathy and suspicion directed at Russians in general.  (I daresay those feelings were mutual.)

Eventually two U. S. Air Force colonels and a member of the Russian parliament (Boris) managed to cut through the red tape, but it was not easy!  They had to deal with the governments of several countries in order to secure permission for a Russian military plane to fly through their air space—not to mention their own military folks (who, understandably, become quite territorial in such matters).  They were asking permission for something that had never been done before: landing a Russian plane at the very headquarters of the American Air Force in Europe!

But they did it.

And it happened in February, 1992.

(To be continued . . .)

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