Patricia Herbaut holds a picture of her late father, Charles, at Chievres Air Base March 28, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Libby Weiler, USAG Benelux Public Affairs)

Benelux Family Legacy: Charlie and Patsy Herbaut

Story by Libby Weiler, USAG Benelux Public Affairs

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story continues our series Benelux Family Legacy, which features multigenerational stories from the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux and tenant unit partners. This series explores the people who comprise the garrison and delves into the legacy they have created in the Benelux.]

CHIEVRES AIR BASE, Belgium – What started out as a temporary three-month position for Patricia “Patsy” Herbaut turned into 43 years of service at U.S. Army Garrison Benelux.

Of those 43 years, 12 included working alongside her father Charles “Charlie” Herbaut, until he retired in December 1992.

Patsy’s parents, Charles and Marie-Nelly, met in Germany in the 1950s. Her mother moved to Germany in 1946, right after the war, due to her grandfather’s work with the Belgian military. Her father Charles joined the Army when he was 16 and moved to Germany in 1950.

Her parents fell in love, and their family grew from two to six in just a few years.

“Even though we were in Germany,” said Patsy, “it was still like we were in Belgium and we developed friendships that are still here today.”

In 1967 when NATO and SHAPE moved from France to Belgium, her father wanted a reassignment at SHAPE. The approval of his request came with a mandatory three-month assignment at NATO in Brussels. Three months turned into three years.

“Those three years were hard, very hard,” explains Patsy. “At school, we were harassed. Even though we were Belgians, we were not born in Belgium; we were not born in Brussels.”

For the first time in her life, she was an outsider in her own country.

While she was growing up in Germany, she used to play with the local children on base, one of which was German. The open-mindedness and the acceptance from a German family after war had just ended could not compare to the lack of acceptance she found in Brussels.

“When we finally arrived at SHAPE in August 1970, we were in heaven,” said Patsy. “From then on, I knew what I wanted to do.”

“I knew for a fact that I wanted to work in a military environment,” she continued. “It didn’t matter if it was with the U.S. Army or for SHAPE or with any other army. I knew that’s where I wanted to work, because I needed that environment - that open-minded environment.”

After graduating, she started applying for jobs in the area.

At the end of September 1979, she had two interviews in one day. The first was a three-month temporary position with NATO SHAPE Support Group (NSSG) as a clerk typist GS (General Schedule) 3. The second was a permanent position as secretary with a company in Nimy, Belgium.

“I got selected for both positions,” she said. “My mind was set, I said do not care, I am going to take the risk. I accepted the position for three months as a clerk typist with civilian personnel, and it’s going to be 43 years that I’m here. … I knew for a fact that’s what I needed.”

In October, Patsy started her career at NSSG as a clerk typist.

“After three months, I got a promotion to a 4, staffing clerk; it was still temporary for 9 months,” Patsy said. “Then a position opened in classification. It was a 5/7/9/11.”

Within four years, Patsy moved from a GS-3 to a GS-11 at the garrison.

A photograph of Charles Herbaut. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Herbaut)

On Sept. 30, 1981, Charles Herbaut retired from SHAPE as Command Sergeant Major for the Belgian army after 33 years of service. The very next day he accepted a position with NSSG as public affairs officer.

“When they established the position of PAO and they told my dad to apply, I had mixed feelings at first,” Patsy said.

In the end, both her and her father working for the same organization turned into more of a family affair than she could have ever imagined.

Because the public affairs officer position had been vacant for years, Charles had to build the program back up. He hired Marie-Lise Baneton, who is today the chief of public affairs, he recruited Cis Spook, public affairs specialist, and he had a U.S. Soldier working in the office as well.

“The funny thing was my dad knew his Soldier had a girlfriend, that she was Belgian, and she could speak English,” Patsy said. “He knew a whole bunch of things about her except that it was his own daughter.”

Aside from her father, everyone in the office knew Patsy and this Soldier were dating. The command group even found out at one point as did her own mother. It was not until Patsy thanked her father for some flowers that he found out.

“There was a ceremony that he attended with my mom and he used to give little flower pots to all the ladies,” she said. “He had extras and he gave one to Dave and said, ‘Hey, this is for your girlfriend.’”

That weekend Patsy went home and thanked her dad for the flowers that she had received.

“He looked at me and said, ‘What flowers?’ I said, ‘The flowers that I got, the flowers you gave to Dave.’ It took a while for him to figure it out. He was like, ‘Are you his girlfriend?’”

Dave ended up moving to Armed Forces Network to avoid nepotism, and Patsy ended up marrying Dave.

Charles Herbaut, left, talks on the phone, and Patricia Herbaut, middle, performs as master of ceremonies during the SHAPE International Air Show in 1984.

Throughout the years, NATO SHAPE Support Group became 80th Area Support Group, which later became U.S. Army Garrison Benelux.

As time went on, both Patsy and Charlie became staples of the garrison.

Patsy was a regular at the Fourth of July picnics, always MCing the event, and Charlie got the Meteor newspaper started back again for the garrison.

In 1984 when there was talk of the first air show at Chièvres Air Base, Charlie Herbaut was involved in the planning.

“They said, ‘Well, who is going to be the MC?’” Patsy said. “My dad said, ‘Oh my daughter can do that.’”

Although being first voluntold by her father, she ended up being the master of ceremonies for numerous air shows throughout the years, with her father often by her side helping.

“I think I was as proud of my dad as he was of me,” said Patsy.

Charles Herbaut retired from U.S. Army Garrison Benelux in December 1992 after 12 years. He served both the Belgian army and U.S. Army for a total of 45 years. He passed away in February 2019.

This December Patricia Herbaut will retire from U.S. Army Garrison Benelux after serving 43 years. She will be leaving the family she has grown to love to move closer to her daughter’s Family in the United States and to continue to serve, but this time as grandmother.

“I think no matter where we are, just like my daughter, we will always have one foot in Belgium, always.”

This series, Benelux Family Legacy, will continue to explore the many stories and experiences from the people who make up U.S. Army Garrison Benelux and its tenant units. Further stories like this on the legacy created through the garrison’s multigenerational workforce are scheduled to be published every Wednesday for the next few weeks.