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Group photo

Veterans and spouses from the Army Russian Institute graduating class of 1976 visited the Marshall Center, June 9.  The Marshall Center was established in the former Army Russian Institute after it was closed following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

By James E. Brooks,
George C. Marshall Center Public Affairs Director

Forty years after their graduation, eight members of the U.S. Army Russian Institute Class of 1976 visited the George C. Marshall Center as part of a reunion trip here, June 9. 

They were joined not only by their spouses, but the widows of two of their classmates. 

“We stay we stay in touch and most of us live in the northern Virginia area.  A couple of us reside in North Carolina but we certainly keep up on the social media,” said retired Army Ed Baisden.  “Joe Clare is the single most important element in that process of keeping the group together.  He is a reunion group guy and he is the he is the keeper of all the secrets.”

The U.S. Army Russian Institute was activated in May 1947, to provide overseas training for the Army’s Foreign Area Officers whose specialty would become the Soviet Union and eastern Europe.

Moved to Garmisch from Oberammergau in 1964, future FAOs and other government officials received specialized language training following their initial language training at the Defense Language Institute.  In addition to specialized language training, the two year program also included travel opportunities to the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. 

“The trips that we’d go on was probably the most impressive part of the program.  But also, it was the part of the program that really encouraged everybody more than any other aspect of program.  You could go to Eastern Europe or go to the Soviet Union and speak Russian.  People actually understood what we were saying.  We were able to understand what Soviet people think of, more or less, and so that was the motivation for us to get back to work harder and to get better at this,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Joe Clare.

The reunion to the George C. Marshall European Center included a visit to former neighborhoods and classrooms now supporting a new mission where educational programs are programmed to build common understanding and trust among European nations, many of which were former Soviet republics.  More importantly, the veterans had a chance to meet a new generation of Army FAOs in training.  The Marshall Center is home to today’s U.S. Army Eurasian Foreign Area Officer (FAO) Training Program.  Much like the former Army Russian Institute, the program here at the Marshall Center today prepares U.S. military officers to be leading regional experts, or “Soldier-Statesmen,” and to serve in key political-military assignments throughout Eurasia.  The FAO program consists of comprehensive regional studies, which includes advanced language training, extensive regional travel, and training within defense organizations in U.S. Embassies across the region. Upon completion of the program, FAOs will go on to serve in various military positions in U.S. embassies, in major U.S. Combatant Commands, and in numerous operational missions around the world.

“Hosting this reunion group was an absolute pleasure for me personally and for our FAOs-in-training.  It not only gave us at the Marshall Center a chance to show these USARI veterans how much our program has evolved since their time, but it afforded our FAOs-in-training the chance to hear what it was like being a Russian Foreign Area Officer during the Cold War,” said Lt. Col. Kelly MacDonald, Director, Eurasian Foreign Area Officer Program.  “None of our FAOs in training were born in 1976; most of them grew up in the 90's after the Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed.  So linking into our ‘band of brothers and sisters’ and hearing their stories serves as an inspiration to the legacy our FAOs are upholding today.  I really hope that we will be able to host subsequent USARI reunions in the future.”

As part of the visit, veterans were interviewed to capture an oral history of their service.  The interviews will be transcribed and be made available through the Marshall Center library for future use by historians and researchers.