Between 1958 and 1983, pilots from the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, came to Phoenix to train at Luke Air Force Base. In 1965, the Arizona governor by decree created the Cactus Starfighters Squadron (CSS) for all the German pilots who had trained at Luke.
During their more than 20 years in Phoenix, squadron members held several fundraisers — Oktoberfest events for the community, book sales and a pilots' choir — that generated enough money to establish the International Friendship Foundation under the leadership of Tom Rhone and Barney Oldfield in the mid-80s. Many Valley organizations have benefited from this fund over the years, including Arizona State University.
For the past 16 years, the International Friendship Foundation has funded an exchange program for one ASU student and one German student to spend a year living and studying in the others' home country. Karl Boettcher, a retired member of the German Air Force and a member of the Cactus Starfighters Squadron (which has representatives in Germany and the United States), says seeing ASU students go to Germany and come back with new knowledge has been very rewarding for him. "We are helping these young students expand their horizons by learning about a foreign country, just as we learned about Arizona during our pilot training," he says. "Even though it's just one student per year, helping that person is so important and has tremendous impact."
Boettcher came to Phoenix in 1971 to train at Luke Air Force Base. He has been a member of the Cactus Starfighters Squadron ever since and currently serves as the squadron's U.S. representative. He's lived in the Valley for 19 years and met his wife here. He also serves as the liaison between the International Friendship Foundation and the ASU Foundation, which took over the management of the International Friendship Foundation's funds in 2003.
"I had not had any previous interaction with ASU before I became involved with the International Friendship Foundation," says Boettcher. "But I've learned a lot, and I have the highest respect for the university and the foundation. The international student office does great work to make the transition flawless for our exchange students, and the foundation has done a remarkable job of growing our wealth over the years. ASU is a phenomenal place to invest."