WIESBADEN, Germany – They say everyone is replaceable, but when Wiesbaden School Liaison Officer Peter Witmer retires this month, his successor will have big shoes to fill.
As the point person for families transitioning to and from U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, Witmer played a vital role for 17 years in helping ease the stress of moving to and from this overseas assignment.
“He was the primary contact for the garrison on school-related matters, many times representing the command,” said Wiesbaden’s Directorate of Family and MWR Programs Director Gregory Holzinger. “I have been here since June of 2015, and Peter has supported the DFMWR mission immensely, especially in establishing partnerships between the schools and the Youth Services, and the schools and military units.”
Holzinger added that Witmer’s dedicated efforts were “absolutely critical. He was in most cases the first person a family contacted that had children prior to moving to Wiesbaden. He set the positive tone for a family’s tour in Wiesbaden.”
A military veteran who hails from Northbrook, Ill., Witmer started his career in 1984 serving with the U.S. Army in Colorado, Japan, Germany, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo during a two-decade-long career.
“I started on tanks and then moved to medical,” he said, explaining that with a degree in psychology with an emphasis on education and teaching certification (plus graduate and post-graduate studies in counseling, child abuse, drug and alcohol, behavioral and brief therapy), he eventually transitioned to military service as a Behavioral Health Specialist counselor. That included time as a Combat Stress Detachment First Sergeant.
During Operation Desert Storm, Witmer supported wounded warriors as 1st Armored Division’s Noncommissioned Officer in Charge Rear Detachment Medical Officer.
During both his military and civilian careers, he also served as a volunteer coach for youth sports – racking up 28 seasons as a head coach for football, basketball and baseball.
After retiring from military service, Witmer transitioned in 2004 to serving military families in his role as a civilian with Child and Youth Services.
“Peter was a very strong advocate for CYS and the Wiesbaden community at large,” said Petra Rohr, Wiesbaden CYS Program Operations Specialist. “His efforts achieved sustained success in both the areas of education and community quality of life.”
Rohr added that Witmer’s media savvy helped keep students and parents informed about school-related issues.
“Peter Witmer was an outstanding and successful advocate for community cooperation in the delivery of youth education,” said Rohr. “His astute use of all available media outlets kept the community well-informed on DoDEA and community-sponsored school activities and opportunities. He assisted parents through often confusing and complex school-related administrative matters.”
“Peter made it a point to get to know each administrator in each of the schools,” said Tom Rooney, Wiesbaden High School teacher and coach – and long-time friend. “Over the years I saw him more and more in the high school as he would stop by to visit and talk about some of the many activities he was organizing for students. Some were smaller activities like lunchtime competitions between students, while others were major events, like the Big Bucks for College fair that would take place each spring.
“Because of years of coaching youth football and basketball, he could provide the coaches at the high school with insights on just about every athlete trying out for our teams,” Rooney said.
Connecting American and host nation schools was another important achievement over the years. That ranged from regular German-American student talent shows, school exchanges, participation in local Fasching parades and Christmas markets to teacher orientations.
“Peter organized hundreds of events in which thousands of host nation and American students have come together and learned about each other and each other’s culture,” said Rohr. “His efforts have resulted in cooperative participation in numerous events taking place in Hessen.”
In 2017 Hessen Minister President Volker Bouffier recognized Witmer’s efforts to enhance German-American relations during the annual Hessentag observance. That award was one among many garnered over his career, including receiving the 2010 Outstanding Pete Taylor Partnership of Excellence Award from the Military Child Education Coalition in recognition of his efforts to better connect the community, military units and Wiesbaden DoDEA schools.
“It is about the process,” explained Witmer. “Every year, every day I had opportunities to support military-connected families. Supporting school transition is the core of SLO (School Liaison Office) business, and it was an honor to work with great students, staff, schools and families.”
Annual Mousetrap Car Races to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), regular Kid’s News and Kid’s talk sessions offering local students an opportunity to gain radio and video experience in partnership with AFN-Wiesbaden, support of the Berlin Airlift commemorative events and a host of other projects were all highly received efforts by Witmer.
“The best part for me, however, was the opportunity to work with so many people and organizations on special projects,” he said. “From host nation partnerships to leading special music events, coaching youth sports to putting kids on the radio with AFN – all of these activities and far more were an extension of my job. Putting smiles on the faces of kids in our community made it fun and rewarding.”
“I know he is looking forward to retirement, but I also know he will miss all the interaction with students he had over the years,” said Rooney.
An avid sailor, Witmer said he is looking forward to spending more time on the water and with his grandchildren.
“It has been a great ride, and it has been an honor and a privilege to serve as the CYS School Liaison in Wiesbaden – with 31 different Wiesbaden community principals, nine different garrison commanders, thousands of CYS and DoDEA staff members and tens of thousands of Wiesbaden students,” Witmer concluded.