East Germany Table of Contents
A major component of socialist military education was the mandatory premilitary basic training provided for all young men between sixteen and nineteen in training units of the Society for Sport and Technology (Gesellschaft für Sport und Technik--GST) at expanded secondary schools, vocational schools, or other vocational training institutions. According to law, the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend--FDJ) was jointly responsible with the GST for premilitary training, particularly for its political aspects.
Of the two mass youth organizations, it was the FDJ that had the earlier influence on young East Germans. In 1946 the FDJ began to provide, as part of its program, military training for young men and women between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five. It had the right to maintain organizations in schools, factories, offices, and the armed services. It also ran the Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organization for children between the ages of six and fourteen. The most important aspects of FDJ premilitary training were discipline, physical training, and political reliability. Discipline was instilled through the group's semimilitary organization, which emphasized order and obedience to authority. Physical training was reinforced through an extensive, well-organized system of calisthenics, physical conditioning programs, and athletic competitions. Participation in the FDJ's annual Hans Beimler Contest, a premilitary competition, was required for boys and girls in grades eight through ten. Political reliability was taught through participation in ceremonies and was incorporated in lectures and other events in the FDJ program.
The leadership of the NVA was particularly pleased with the physical training program and stated that the physical quality of recruits coming from the FDJ was decidedly above that for nonmembers. The most important role for the FDJ, however, was in the area of political reliability. Even after members entered the service, the FDJ organizations there oversaw their off-duty time and ensured that they maintained proper socialist values. It was the FDJ that was selected to sponsor campaigns in the mid-1980s to encourage young conscripts to add another eighteen months or more to their term of active military service. In the early 1980s, about 80 percent of the young service personnel were FDJ members. For those young men or women who wished to become officers in the NVA, the People's Police, and probably the Ministry of State Security as well, an endorsement by their local FDJ organization was an unofficial but nonetheless real requirement.
FDJ brigades also had a role to play in the Third World. Young East Germans, regarded as industrious, skilled, and well behaved, were much sought after. In the early 1980s, there were approximately fifteen FDJ brigades in nine African countries. These youth brigades did construction and repair work and trained truck drivers and mechanics.
The GST, founded in 1952 and directly subordinate to the minister of defense, had as its primary tasks the development of public military readiness and the premilitary preparation of young people between fourteen and twenty-five for service in the armed forces. The organization soon enjoyed a certain popularity because it offered numerous opportunities to engage in expensive hobbies and activities that as a rule were not easily accessible to East German teenagers. In 1982, with the passage of the new Military Service Law, premilitary training became compulsory; hence the GST was an essential instrument in East Germany's system of socialist military education and national defense. As of April 1983, the society had approximately 480,000 members and almost 100,000 instructors. Many of the latter were NVA reservists. The top officials of the GST were NVA officers and generals. Vice Admiral Günther Kutzschebauch, a graduate of the Naval Academy of the Soviet Armed Forces in Leningrad, has headed the GST since 1982.
Like the FDJ, the GST was responsible for physical training and for inculcating political reliability and military discipline. The GST differed from the FDJ, however, in that it concentrated on teaching military and military-related skills and knowledge. In addition to compulsory basic training, the premilitary training program included specialized preparation for specific NVA career fields. Participation in career training was voluntary except for young men between sixteen and nineteen who intended to be career servicemen. Among the offerings were vehicle driving, mechanics, radio and telegraphy, sailing, diving, parachute jumping, gliding and flying, and marksmanship. Successful completion of a requirement earned a badge that later could be worn on the NVA uniform.
The GST also pursued its goals through classes on socialism and SED objectives, patriotic activities such as visits to war memorials, organization of national and international military and athletic competitions, and sponsorship of annual training camps, which were considered the high point of general premilitary training. Young people in vocational training attended camp during the first year of their apprenticeship, while university students went at the beginning of the second phase of their studies. All university students, even those who already had served in the armed forces, were subject to military student training. The program for young women attending the camp focused on civil defense, and members of the Red Cross received special training. After camp training--at the start of the second year of apprenticeship or the third phase of university study--additional advanced training began.
Data as of July 1987
East Germany Table of Contents