Three generations of Maessens pictured in photo. (Courtesy photo by Patrick Maessen)
Benelux Family Legacy: Jan and Patrick Maessen
Story by Jessica Abbas, USAG Benelux Public Affairs
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story continues our series Benelux Family Legacy, which features multigenerational stories from 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.]
BRUNSSUM, Netherlands – “I never knew anything else,” said Patrick Maessen, senior management analyst at U.S. Army Garrison Benelux – Brunssum, “so, I think it was my destiny.”
Fathers, sons, mothers, daughters – following in one’s Family footsteps is not a new concept to the military or the U.S. Army. There are countless stories of generations answering the call. Nevertheless, unique perhaps to the garrison are the footsteps Patrick took in following his father, who came before him.
“My father (Jan Maessen) began working for the garrison in 1968 as a store worker for (the Defense Commissary Agency) and after a few years moved over to the DeCA budget office,” said Patrick.
Across 44 years of service, Patrick explained his father’s career developed from the early days with DeCA to an administrative role with the Directorate of Public Works (DPW) and ultimately a position in the Resource Management Office (RMO), where Jan would spend the majority of his career.
“There is an extensive series of commander photos lining the wall in the conference room,” said Patrick, describing the room in the headquarters building at USAG Benelux-Brunssum. “My father, he served every one of them.”
Jan was also the photographer of some of the historic photos in the hallways of the headquarters building.
“So you can imagine when I was brought up, my entire youth was always U.S. Army,” he said. “I was brought up more or less with all the stories and all the names and all the people.”
Patrick recalls numerous visits to the garrison in his youth for various family-friendly functions, noting the most memorable included the annual Freedom Fest celebrations held on the Fourth of July.
“It was huge back then with major tents, and I remember they even flew in helicopters and put them on display,” he said.
Born and raised in South Limburg, Patrick has lived in Schinveld and Brunssum most of his life. Until the mid-90s, conscripted service remained compulsory in the Netherlands for every man and woman between the ages of 17 and 45 years old. Patrick, whom the Dutch Army drafted in 1993, served two years with the Royal Netherlands Marchaussee (Koninklijke Marachaussee or KMar).
Following his service, university became Patrick’s next path. There he earned a degree in economics and administration before working ten years in the public sector for a delivery company at the Maastricht Airport.
“The company I worked for, there was no possibility to grow anymore and no internal vacancies because everything was done at headquarters,” Patrick said. “And that was one of the main reasons I started to look outside for other options.”
Back then, there were garrison job opportunities in local newspapers.
“He (Jan) only said there is an ad in the paper,” Patrick said. “‘If it is of interest to you, you have to write; I’m not going to do you any favors.’ He is a ‘make-your-own-way’ kind of guy.”
Patrick answered the ad and was hired by the garrison as a contract inspector for the DPW Operations and Maintenance Division (O&M).
His career progressed from contractor to full-time garrison employee, and Patrick worked in a variety of positions including civil engineer with O&M, facility management specialist with Business Operations and Integration Division (BO&I), chief of BO&I and then chief of engineering/BO&I before he was eventually promoted into his father’s position.
“In the early days, we carpooled for several years because we lived in the same town and it was convenient,” said Patrick. “But, I also got some wise words of wisdom driving back if I screwed up something.
“One of the first meetings I actually sat in for DPW, having him in the same room – that was special,” Patrick continued, “because then we had father and son in the same staff call, talking to the same commander, representing RMO and DPW.
“You definitely don’t want to screw up in front of dad,” Patrick continued. “I was told pretty up front how it should be done correctly.”
He is grateful for the opportunity to see his father in a different capacity, as a colleague and working professional. Nevertheless, he explained his father maintained a similar posture and attitude at work as he did at home.
“I think we definitely have some stories to tell,” Patrick said. “We still have dinner every week together and it’s not always work, but sometimes I bring up stuff and he (Jan) loves hearing the stories of what’s going on, even now.”
When Jan eventually retired and received a pin from the commander, Patrick recalls his father’s singular modest remark, “mission completed.”
Early into his career with the garrison, Patrick was forward-focused and completed his Masters of Business Administration attending school at night while working full-time during the day. When the opportunity presented to apply for his father’s position in RMO, Patrick knew the stakes were high.
“They told me when I interviewed for the job – and I was interviewed by four RMO folks from Chièvres, (Belgium) – that I had some pretty big shoes to fill,” he said. “In the end it did us both proud that we achieved this career path.”
Patrick supports the Benelux manpower officer on all U.S.-related processes for Dutch Ministry of Defense (DMOD) host nation employees working for the garrison. He works agreements for internal and external USAG customers for the Netherlands and partially in Germany.
When the U.S. Army started the manpower/agreements process, it was Jan who initiated the RMO program at then USAG Schinnen.
“All Dutch (personnel at the garrison) have a liaison function; we are all stewards of who we are, what we do and what we contribute to the U.S.,” Patrick said. “There is a bit of pride serving the government, trying to do our best.
“I think also if people ask me outside what I do for a living it’s always special to tell them what I do – I work with the U.S. Army!”
Noting the special relationship that exists between the Dutch and U.S., Patrick points to the history just down the road, at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten.
“All the graves are adopted by the Dutch, and there’s a waiting list,” he said. “You cannot just apply for one, you have to wait for it – even three, and four generations past the war, it is still very vivid for Dutch citizens.”
For the Maessens, the legacy continues as the next generation steps up to serve at the garrison.
Patrick has two sons Maarten, age 21, and Matthijs, 19. Matthijs did a two-week internship in partnership with DPW O&M in 2019 to get to know what it is to start working. Maarten is currently in his third year of university seeking a degree in computer science; in 2021, he did a 6-month internship with DPW.
“They now instantly knew what it is the grandfather and father talk about,” said Patrick. “To them it makes more sense. ‘Ah this is what you mean and now I know what it is.’ It opened their eyes and they more or less can see it is pretty special to work here; it is not an everyday job.
“I’m not sure what their aspirations are long-term, but maybe I planted the seed,” Patrick continued. “It runs in the family!”
This year Patrick marks 20 years of service with DMOD supporting the U.S. Army.
“Sometimes people forget that it is still pretty special to work for the garrison. It is not for everybody and some people may take it for granted that we work here. But if you ever worked corporate or commercial, you know what it is in this world, it is completely different. And most recently, seeing Soldiers shipped abroad and us supporting them, it still makes me feel special that we contribute.”
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 organizations. Further stories like this on the legacy created through the garrison’s multigenerational workforce will continue to be published every Wednesday for the next several weeks.