MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Growing up as the daughter of missionaries, Army Capt. Kathrine Berberich got a perspective on the world that is foreign to most Americans. It also made her a perfect fit to head Wisconsin’s State Partnership Program with Nicaragua.
Though she was born in Minneapolis, Berberich moved with her parents to Venezuela at a young age. Her family moved frequently to new missionary fields.
“As a missionary kid, I grew up close to people,” the captain said. “I went to the open markets and lived in very humble homes. I am not surprised by the cultural differences that are shocking to most.”
She is now in the middle of a two-and-a-half-year tour in Nicaragua, where she works at the U.S. Embassy here.
Berberich has no problem fitting in with the local people. Her father was a native Venezuelan, and she speaks fluent Spanish.
“The best compliments I get are when someone asks me what part of Nicaragua I am from,” she said. “I always say Esteli, because that is the region where most of the Miss Nicaraguas are from.”
Her role in Nicaragua is diverse. Officially, she is the bilateral affairs officer, which means she coordinates partner nation participation in events hosted by U.S. Southern Command. In addition, she manages the budget for the embassy’s security office.
As a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, she also coordinates Wisconsin’s partnership program with Nicaragua. She and Capt. Orrin Viner, also a Wisconsin Army National Guard officer, plan events that benefit the mutual interests of the United States and Nicaragua.
The duo coordinates the Wisconsin military engagement team’s missions to Nicaragua. That team has worked with Nicaraguan civil defense officials on natural disaster mitigation and relief.
When the military engagement team or a state partnership program envoy visits Nicaragua, Berberich is responsible for the planning, logistics, and facilitation of the group’s day-to-day operations in the country.
Prior to her current assignment, Berberich was the facility manager at the Wisconsin Military Academy at Fort McCoy, Wis. She also served in the rear detachment of the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade when that unit deployed to Kosovo last year. When the Nicaragua opportunity opened, the Guard’s leadership immediately pegged her as a good fit.
In addition to all of her military duties, Berberich also has a family in tow. The opportunity to expose them to a different culture was a key factor in her accepting the position.
“The main reason I took this assignment was to give my children a similar childhood experience to mine,” she said. “I wanted them to know there is more life in the world than suburbia Wisconsin. I wanted them to know that life is wonderfully complicated in a country that is very poor. I also wanted them to set themselves apart from their cohort by speaking Spanish and experiencing a different culture.”
Her two children, Monte, 17, and Peyton, 8, accompanied Berberich and her husband, Kurt, to the Central American nation for the duration of her tour there.
“It depends on the day,” she said when asked how her family has enjoyed the experience. “It is so much easier for me here because of my upbringing, my appearance, and my language skills. They miss the snow and just being free to go to other kids’ houses or ride their bikes.”
Berberich and her family will remain in Nicaragua through 2014.