NATO School

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NATO SCHOOL Oberammergau
Motto 1953-2013 - 60 Years of Teaching Excellence
Established 1953
Officer in charge
Capt. W. Scott Butler, USN
Dean Col. Timothy Dreifke, USAF
Administrative staff
Students 10,000/year
Location Oberammergau, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
47°36′N 11°5′E / 47.600°N 11.083°E / 47.600; 11.083Coordinates: 47°36′N 11°5′E / 47.600°N 11.083°E / 47.600; 11.083
Campus Hötzendorf Casern

The NATO SCHOOL Oberammergau in southern Germany is NATO's key training facility on the operational level. The School started with two courses in 1953 and now offers over 100 different courses to Alliance members and partners on subjects related to NATO's policies, strategies, missions and operations.


The NATO School Oberammergau conducts multinational military education and individual training in support of current and developing NATO operations, strategy, policy, doctrine, and procedures. This includes cooperation, dialogue, and information exchange, including education and training, with military and civilian personnel from non-NATO nations.

Since 1953, more than 200,000 officers, non-commissioned officers and civilians have attended courses at the School. Annually, about 10,000 students and conference attendees visit the School.


The NATO School Oberammergau provides courses of instruction in six main disciplines, mostly one week in duration, in the fields of:

  • Intelligence
  • Cooperative Security
  • Joint Operations
  • Joint Plans
  • Protection
  • Non Commissioned Officer Programmes

Primarily focused on individual education, NATO School Oberammergau also supports many aspects of collective training, exercises, experimentation and operations. Education and training is centred on combined and operational art while offering Mobile Education and Training Teams, web based Advanced Distributed Learning and of course resident courses and seminars. Moreover, the School has become a destination for many defence and security related conferences.


Allied Command Transformation (ACT) provides guidance for the School's quality assurance with Allied Command Operations (ACO – also known as SHAPE) providing most of the curriculum. The courses are continually revised and updated to reflect current developments in SHAPE and across NATO as a whole.

Germany and United States contribute personnel, facilities and logistics support. The expanded role of the School is reflected in its staff and faculty; more than twenty nations voluntarily contribute personnel to the staff body of the School.

The students regularly come from all allied and national military commands within the NATO alliance. Nevertheless, students from about 80 different nations attend classes in Oberammergau, including members of the alliance's Partnership for Peace programme, nations composing the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Conference Initiative, and other Partner nations.


The Hoetzendorf Casern[edit]

The Hoetzendorf Kaserne (barracks) in Oberammergau was planned soon after the German National Socialist Party took power in 1933 and construction began in 1935. Most of the original twenty buildings were completed in just two years and are still standing today, albeit in modified form. The Hoetzendorf Barracks was named after Field Marshal Franz Xavier Joseph Conrad von Hoetzendorf (1852 – 1925), who was the Chief of Staff of the Austrian-Hungarian armed forces at the outbreak of the First World War.

The Barracks was home to the 54th Mountain Signal Battalion from October 1937 and from August 1943 the Messerschmitt research and design bureau, operating under the cover name of "Upper Bavarian Research Institute", moved on to the site from Augsburg. The Institute worked on high speed jet aircraft designs such as the Me-262 and the variable-geometry "Projekt 1101", the Enzian surface-to-air missile and other aircraft weapons systems. A tunnel complex - thought to house a Mach 10 wind tunnel - was partially constructed in the base of the adjacent Laber mountain and the Institute also controlled outlying production facilities in tunnels near Eschenlowe and at Schloss Linderhoff. In March and April 1945, the Barracks also became the temporary home to 400-500 V-2 ballistic missile engineers and technicians who were evacuated from Peenemünde, under SS-Major Wernher von Braun, who subsequently led the NASA Apollo Programme.

The site was discovered by US forces on 29 April 1945 and half of the site became a United Nations Relief and Reconstruction Agency "Displaced Persons" Camp for about 18 months. The US Army also established a European Theatre Intelligence School, and one of the early instructors (1946 – 47) was Nobel Laureate Henry Kissinger, who was US Secretary of State between 1973 and 1977.

In 1947 the US War Department established Detachment "R", training US military and civilian personnel in Russian language, culture and politics in preparation for diplomatic tours in the Soviet Union. Instructors were drawn from Russian émigrés and the immersion training principle was used – all instruction was in Russian language with students and their families encouraged to live as Russians during their three years at Oberammergau. In 1964, the detachment moved to nearby Garmisch-Partenkirchen to become the US Army Russian Institute, which was absorbed into the George C Marshall Centre for European Security Studies in 1993.

Commencement of NATO Training[edit]

In September 1952, the US Army Europe decided to design a two-week course of instruction to cover staff planning and procedures for nuclear war. This course was to be established at the US Army Intelligence and Military Police School in Oberammergau. The Intelligence Department was given the mission of conducting these classes with the first one conducted in January 1953. Two month later, the Special Weapons Branch was activated.

The Hoetzendorf Kaserne in Oberammergau, home to the School, was renamed as the Hawkins Barracks on 20 September 1954, in honour of Lt Col Jesse M. Hawkins US Army, who was Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence of the 2nd Armoured Division, who fought gallantly and was killed in France in September 1944.

The US Army School Command, Europe was established at Oberammergau, Germany, on 1 April 1960, to provide centralised control of the major elements of the school system. The Ordnance, Engineer, Quartermaster and Signal Schools were consolidated and instruction in Adjutant General Subjects was discontinued. At the same time a special weapons department was added to the Intelligence and Military Police School at Oberammergau.

Increased NATO Training Role[edit]

In 1966, the Special Weapons Branch became the NATO Weapons Systems Department and was placed under the operational control of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). The curriculum was expanded and additional courses were introduced. In 1972, the Department became the NATO Weapons Systems School. The School remained under the operational control of SACEUR, but was designated as a separate, joint-service, multinational United States European Command (USEUCOM) activity.

On 29 June 1974, the last US Commandant of the Hawkins Barracks, Colonel Kamp US Army, handed back the site to the German MoD, represented by Mr Christoph Wirsching, Director of the Wehrbereichskommando IV (Military District HQ) in Munich. The majority of facilities became part of the new Bundeswehrverwaltungschule IV (German Army Administration School IV).

On 12 August 1975, the NATO School (SHAPE) was officially established by Charter as a bilateral institution between the governments of the United States of America and the Federal Republic of Germany. At the same time the Hawkins Barracks was returned to the original installation name.

On 18 December 1984, the site was also subjected to an abortive car-bomb attack by the Red Army Fraktion (also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang). A stolen car laden with explosives was driven on to the site and abandoned by its driver, whose actions and dress raised concerns with the Deputy Commandant. The Bundespolizei were shortly on the scene and the massive car-bomb was rendered safe; there were no casualties and there have been no arrests.

Between 1970 and 1990, the school expanded its curriculum from 6 to 23 courses as NATO recognised the value of standardised education for members of the Alliance. By 1978 the academic portfolio of NATO School (SHAPE) had four key departments. The Orientation Department provided training for staff officers newly assigned to NATO HQs, while the Employment Department covered planning, policy and surety aspects of the employment of NATO nuclear weapons. A Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Department gave instruction on the defence against NBC weapons and an Electronic Warfare Department trained students on defensive electronic warfare.

While over the last decades the curriculum focussed on courses reflecting the military circumstances of the Cold War, in the mid-90th new conflicts on the Balkans led to new courses enabling NATO forces securing the peace across the region. As a result of NATO intervention in Yugoslavia and the Dayton Agreement signed in late 1995, NATO School (SHAPE) hosted a Special Arms Control Course in 1996. Arms control inspectors from the five Parties to the Dayton Agreement attended a course on implementation of the detailed arms control agreements to support the Bosnia peace process. Thus, NATO School (SHAPE) progressively broadened its programmes, away from specifically military training and towards addressing wider peace support concerns.

Furthermore, the conflict across the Balkans illustrated the battlespace was now shared with militias, civilians, United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations. From 1997, NATO School (SHAPE) hosted a range of courses reflecting these changes. A Civil Emergency Planning (CEP)/Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) Course addressed the basic principles and procedures of civil-military co-operation within NATO’s strategic concept. European Security Cooperation Courses as part of wider NATO-sponsored Security Cooperation Activities.

21st Century[edit]

During a Transfer of Authority Ceremony in June 2003, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (SACT) took over the responsibilities of the School and the School got its present name: "NATO School Oberammergau". In 2004, the School was granted the status of "NATO Military Body". This enables Voluntary National Contributions at the School to obtain certain privileges and formalises the status of the School within the NATO framework.

Between 2004 and 2012, NATO School Oberammergau was one of several NATO institutions and Centres of Excellence throughout NATO member countries that offered education and training facilities to Iraqi students. Assisting the NATO Training Mission-Iraq the school provided education on a wide variety of subjects including Defence against Terrorism, Peace Support Operations, Crisis Management, Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC), and NATO Public Affairs Policy. The school also sends training teams all over the world to provide specialist training to larger audiences.

The security environment continues to change at a rapid rate and NATO is working to ensure that the Alliance is capable of meeting these emerging security challenges. Cyber-attacks, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and other emerging threats such as energy vulnerabilities are all matters of concerns to the security of NATO's almost 900 million citizens. NATO School Oberammergau continuously adapts its training and education programme to meet these challenges.[citation needed]

External links[edit]