A still image from Coffee with the Commander.

Notes from Coffee with the Commander, a USAG Benelux town hall event, Nov. 10, 2020.

CHIÈVRES, Belgium – Col. James R. Yastrzemsky, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Benelux, hosted “Coffee with the Commander,” an online town hall event, Nov. 10 at the garrison headquarters at Chièvres Air Base.

He was joined in the garrison headquarter building’s “Resiliency Room” by Col. Kathy Spangler, commander of the SHAPE, Belgium, and Brussels health care facilities; Kent Worford, superintendent for Department of Defense Education Activity – Europe, West District; and Aliyah Negley, community readiness and resilience integrator and employee assistance program coordinator.

Below are the notes compiled from the town hall:


Yastrzemsky welcomed viewers to the live event and recognized Kathleen Kossler, a nurse consultant with the garrison’s Child, Youth and School Services. She received the lunch pail award from the previous recipient.

Kossler oversees health and health training needs for the Chièvres / SHAPE, Brussels and Brunssum communities. She has kept a safe environment for the children and the team, and has also been creative in providing support to the team and has been going above and beyond to make sure everybody is being trained.

Yastrzemsky discussed the current situation with COVID.

He started by highlighting some recent host nation updates in Belgium:

  • Partial lockdown continues until Dec. 13 in Belgium with a reassessment on Dec. 1.
  • Each family member has the right to one close contact per family, except for single people, who may see two people albeit separately.
  • Gatherings are only allowed for small groups of four people maximum (impacts on wedding, funerals…).
  • Restaurants and bars are closed. Only take-out is available. This has an impact on our AAFES partners.
  • Non-essential stores are closed.
  • Beauty and barbers shops closed (including in the garrison).
  • Schools are on scheduled fall break originally scheduled to be end Nov. 6, and it was extended until Nov. 13. Students will be back to schools on Nov. 16. Students of SHAPE American schools (elementary, middle, and high schools) will also return to school Nov. 16.
  • All information on the host nation measures are posted on the USAG Benelux website.

Yastrzemsky provided information on the decision-making process concerning health protection conditions (HPCON). The assessment of the HPCON is done through daily discussions with all leaders and in conjunction with host nation partners.

The USAG Benelux monitors daily health reports and has increased monitoring (2 or 3 times a week) to report to its leadership.

Multiple factors play a role in the determination of the HPCON: not just active cases but capacity to test, to treat and to monitor the situation.

Concerning the capacity to test for COVID-19, Spangler explained that the clinics have the capability of testing in house. They also partner with Landstuhl Medical Center if need be. On the economy, only symptomatic testing right now.

Concerning the capacity to treat COVID-19, there are still active cases in the community but with minor symptoms.  There is less hospitalization than during the first wave because ability to test for and receive results earlier. The clinics also continue to monitor the statuses in the host nation communities. And so far, everybody is getting the care they need.

Concerning the capacity to monitor, the trace process is efficient, according to Spangler, and the clinics have received additional support from 21st Training Sustainment Command. Four medics came from Baumholder came to lend a hand.

To summarize, Spangler said they monitor the cases inside and outside the gates, look at their capacity to test, and their capacity to monitor in order to assess the HPCONs

In addition, since March there is a paradigm shift: Experts understand the disease better, the clinic is better equipped, and better procedures are in place. All those reasons positively affect the garrison’s ability to operate.

This is also the reason why there are different approaches for the different schools: A decision taken for Brussels school might not be the same as for SHAPE school. Both have different stakeholders.

Two weeks ago, a host nation decree was published to extend fall break. SHAPE schools were on break, so it was natural to extend it for one week. Specific decision did not correlate to Brussels school. All leaders met (NATO, USAG, DoDEA, local leaders), and got an approval from higher headquarters to continue in-person education.

One of the factors playing an important role in this decision: the very low inside community transmission rate for active cases in the USAG Benelux Brussels community.

Risk mitigation measures applied in school have been effective.

This decision was taken as a more informed approach. Protecting our workforce is the garrison’s primary goal as we make those decisions.

The guidance is unchanged: anyone permanently changing station in must stay 14 days in restriction of movement, even if coming from a green area.

If you have met any issue with testing while at the lodge, please contact the Shape Health Clinic to get guidance.

School update:

  • SHAPE schools will report back Nov. 16.
  • Worford reminded parents that if their child is not feeling well, please keep him/her at home and call public health!
  • Volleyball and weightlifting should be offered, but it might still change with host nation rules.

Clinic update:

  • The first flu drive took place last week with maximum participation. Unfortunately the clinic is currently facing a shortage of flu vaccines. It should come by end of November or the beginning of December. No dates are confirmed yet. The clinic will do everything to get the vaccine to the high-risk people first (including frontline people like teachers, CDC workers, and so forth) and then to the rest of the community.
  • At this point, the pediatric vaccine (for children aged 6 to 36 months) is available on a walk-in basis Monday to Friday from 8 to 11:30 a.m. and from 1 to 4 p.m.
  • Those who have medical appointments the community can contact referral manager to verify appointment is confirmed.

Morale, Welfare and Recreation update:

  • MWR is transitioning to a new website, which has led to some bugs. Make sure to check updates on Facebook.
  • MWR wants to thank the community for the great participation in the Halloween virtual events. Next event should be Turkey Trot, which is still scheduled to happen.
  • CYS is in full operational mode. Nevertheless, they will need to modify the winter sports offering, so please reach out to see changes.
  • Fitness centers are staying open.

Task Force Clean update:

  • As during the first wave of COVID-19, Task Force Clean is responsible for the cleaning of workplace to avoid spread of virus.
  • With personal protective equipment, everyone can do it!  Make sure your workspace area is clean on a daily basis.
  • If necessary, develop a mandatory time to clean the area.

Emergency services update:

  • Soldiers are at the gates and in our high visibility zones (commissary, food court…).
  • They are asking questions, so please answer honestly as they are there to protect our community.

Directorate of Human Resources update:

  • A new operation is on its way: Operation Adopt a single Service member / civilian!
  • If you want to register as an adoptive family, please call Army Community Services.
  • More info will be available in a couple of weeks.

Workforce development:

Professional development training program takes places every other Thursday for the USAG Benelux employees. The purpose is for all to be better professionals!

Expired IDs:

During the first wave of COVID-19, there was guidance to extend expired ID if the ID cardholder could not reach services to renew. The guidance is still ongoing until June 30, 2021. The services are open, however, so do not hesitate to renew your IDs.

Student travel:

DHR has not received specific guidance for students coming home for the holidays.

Make sure your students have relevant documents and know that they will have to follow the requirements (14 days of quarantine).

Negley the Community Readiness and Resilience integrator explained her role in the garrison. She is here to identify what area we can work on to increase readiness and resilience.

Spouse orientation will take place on Nov. 12 at 0900 through Microsoft teams. Spouses can register at +32 (0)65326817 or by emailing lindita.celaj.ln@mail.mil

Hunting the good stuff:
Last month, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Simon Chang received a promotion. Join us in congratulating him!

National Native American Heritage Month is ongoing and a chance to recognize the diversity of the Armed Forces.

 Speak Your Mind: this is a dialogue about how we can be better as an organization. It is open to everyone!

As tomorrow is Veterans Day, Yastrzemsky thanked all veterans for all they’ve done.

USAG Benelux Public Affairs Office