When COVID-19 rules threatened to derail a rite of passage for graduating seniors, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden and tenant units came together to assist the school and put on a celebration to remember.
The Wiesbaden High School Class of 2020 walked the stage in cap and gown June 5 at Wiesbaden Army Airfield in a ceremony like no other as they gathered in cars, had their pictures taken next to two aircraft, and ended the day with a motorcade, cheered on by members of their community.
“I could not be prouder of the teamwork and manifestation of community spirit and support that has enabled this great and memorable event today,” Garrison Commander Col. Noah Cloud told onlookers.
The idea for having graduation on the airfield came from a WHS student council member, said Dr. Heather Ramaglia, the school’s principal. She then reached out to the school liaison officer to see if it was possible. Once the ball was rolling, the airfield and garrison planning team began collaborating with other key players and running with the idea, she said.
“It felt like anything we asked, they made it happen,” she said of the many directorates and units involved. “It really took a village to make this happen.”
Directorates, units and personnel across the garrison worked together as a team to give the graduates a celebration that rivaled pre-COVID ceremonies.
“Everyone came together to make this event possible,” said Michael Horne, deputy manager for Wiesbaden Army Airfield. “Anything that was needed, everyone in the garrison immediately stepped up to provide it.”
Graduates arrived in a staggered fashion, picked up their transcript and diploma packets, then posed for photos in their cars. After the individual photos, the cars were escorted to a parking area at one end of the airfield. The group of cars proceeded to the ceremony and stage, led by Zachary Kirk, senior class president, in a golf cart while “Pomp and Circumstance” played.
Visual Information Services-Europe and American Forces Network worked together to project the ceremony on screens so it would be viewable to cars in the back rows. At the end of the ceremony, vehicles were led on a procession by a fire truck, followed at the end by police onto a motorcade route around Clay Kaserne, where residents cheered for the graduates and congratulated them as they drove past.
“This was truly a community event,” Ramaglia said. “We brought out the heart and soul of the Wiesbaden community. It made people feel really good about an unfortunate situation our graduates were in. I think it’s something people needed, and it was really powerful to see people come together and support each other.”
Horne credited airfield personnel who managed the parking and even jump-started several cars that died during the ceremony from having their radios on, listening to the AFN broadcast. “They were able to jump the cars without anybody noticing; without disrupting the ceremony,” he said.
The Directorate of Emergency Services supported the event with traffic management, law enforcement, a water salute from the fire trucks and emergency vehicle escorts for the final motorcade.
“It was an honor to serve the community in this fashion,” said Lt. Col. Edwin Escobar, DES director and provost marshal, who credited Task Force Protect, POND management and others for helping to put on the multidisciplinary and multifunctional event. “The consistent open lines of communication with the high school allowed us to execute their vision. I firmly believe the event was extremely successful in their transition from high school to the next journey. It was momentous and a classy way to tell the community – ‘they did it, and we’re proud.’”
The 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment and U.S. Army Europe G-3 Aviation fully supported the event with their time and effort, Horne said. The 1st Bn., 214th Avn. Regt. brought people in on one of their training holidays and provided their hangar for two days.
Cloud left the graduating seniors with a few words of encouragement on being kind.
“Be kind to yourself, your families, your teammates, and even those that are not kind in return,” he said. “This simple piece of advice, although not always intuitive, will make you a happier person and the world a better place. It can become a habit, and it’s contagious.”