KOBLENZ, GERMANY -- First, Col. Hans-Georg Wieche got a new uniform. Then, he got a new mind-set. Both are more comfortable than the old ones, but still, they could use some breaking in.

For 23 years, Wieche, a career officer in East Germany's National People's Army, steeped himself in military history and strategy -- of the Soviet Union.

He learned Russian, attended a Soviet military academy and grew to view the West through a Soviet filter. World War II was the Great Patriotic War, a battle to the death for the Soviet fatherland over German fascists. West Germany was the postwar manifestation of the fascist tradition, a cruel capitalist behemoth whose military apparatus was riddled with ex-Nazis.

But Wieche woke up on the morning of Oct. 3 as an officer in the Bundeswehr, which until then had been the army of West Germany. Last week, he and about 80 of his comrades were immersed in a course on Western values, military tradition, politics and leadership -- a three-week baptism in the ways of the former enemy.

"To suddenly be a part of that Western alliance that was our enemy. . . . It's incredible," Wieche said over a military lunch of boiled potatoes, boiled pork and beans at the Inner Leadership Center here.

The once-fearsome National People's Army -- the front line of the Warsaw Pact in Cold War scenarios that chilled two generations -- had dwindled to fewer than 50,000 soldiers by the time the Germanys united. Now, at least for a two-year trial period, those troops are the German Bundeswehr East -- same men, same bases, but facing a different direction.

Historians at this officers' training center high above the meeting point of the Rhine and Moselle rivers have searched through the centuries and cannot find another task like theirs: Absorb, more or less as equals, an enemy army acquired in friendship and peace.

In the coming months, hundreds of east German officers will go west for three weeks of classes, role-playing exercises and late-night talks. Bundeswehr officers are taking their new colleagues home to meet their families, to used car lots and department stores to learn about a market economy.

The blending of Germans east and west is not automatic. For decades, both armies claimed to be the true descendants of the best German military tradition. Each accused the other of inheriting the Nazi legacy of following orders without a moral filter. Each considered the other little more than a tool of its dominating superpower.

But only one survived. And despite the east Germans' pride in their army's role in the peaceful revolution last fall, the west German military is qualitatively different from its Stalinist cousin.

"The {East German army} was much more like the Nazis, driven by an unflinching discipline," said Donald Abenheim, a specialist on the German military at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

"The West German Bundeswehr was also created out of a totalitarian army, the Nazi Wehrmacht," Abenheim said. "But the West Germans developed a very enlightened form of discipline and leadership based on the idea that an army in a democracy must treat people fairly. It will take years for the east Germans to really adapt."

Before the east German officers can fully immerse themselves in the Bundeswehr, they must first fight for their jobs. "We know what happens here for three weeks, and then we know nothing," said Maj. Detlef Thiele, 34. "A military career was supposed to be a guaranteed life for 25 years or more. Now we can be let go at any moment."

Few -- very few -- of the east German officers will eventually be accepted as career Bundeswehr officers. Those who are, in most cases, will be knocked down several ranks. The German military has committed itself to shrinking from 550,000 troops to 370,000 in the next few years.

Until they learn their fate, the eastern officers are paid far less than their western counterparts. "If we gave them the same salary we get," said Bundeswehr Capt. Walter Kuemmel, "then they would again be a privileged class in their society, and we do not want that."

The east Germans also face resentment and hostility from west German officers who do not like the idea of having Communist Party members in their army. The Bundeswehr refused to take on the political officers who monitored each unit, but every East German officer had to belong to the party.

East German officers "are absolutely preoccupied with their private family future," said Adm. Ulrich Hundt, the center's commander. "Of course, many are like a sponge. They write everything down, because," he laughed, "it is the truth, nothing but the truth.

"But to a considerable extent, they are unreachable. They don't talk to each other. Their inner attitudes are still tense. They are struggling for survival."

There are signs that the eastern officers take quickly and well to the more individualistic ways of the western military. In one role-playing exercise here last week, the officers were divided into NATO and Warsaw Pact nations and sent off to create a new European security system. Officers representing Warsaw Pact countries came back quickly with an easy consensus -- barely any discussion, no conflict. The NATO group, however, got bogged down in vituperative arguments over the demands of each country.

The officers took to their western roles with a vengeance, investing each country with a personality and a position the officers considered worth fighting for. Asked to defend the interests of Warsaw Pact countries, the officers took the path of least resistance. There was, one major said later, "nothing worth really arguing for."

The teachers were pleased but have no illusions about transforming their eastern colleagues in a three-week course.

Hundt concluded that the east Germans "are not prepared to say, 'No, Captain, I disagree {with an immoral command}. I will not do that.' And that is the first step to a made-in-Germany culture of leadership -- to disagree, not without respect, but to say freely what you are thinking."

What distinguishes the Bundeswehr from other armies, east or west, is what the Germans call Auftragsfuehrung, a commitment to delegate authority to such an extent that all soldiers feel able to make their own decisions.

"That's why we fought pretty brilliantly in the two world wars and were respected for it," Hundt said. "It takes months and months to teach this. Really, it is a lifelong story."

The east German students say they appreciate the west German desire to prevent the blind obedience of the Nazi era. But they say the east German army had similar rules.

"This is not fully new for us," Wieche said. "If I was in a situation where my life would be endangered by an order, I was supposed to say no. Maybe it wouldn't have worked that way, but our military leadership was moral enough to refuse to fire on the demonstrators last fall."

The final act of the National People's Army -- really a decision not to act -- made many officers proud. By staying at their bases during last fall's mass demonstrations, the officers argue, the army did its part to bring down the Communist regime.

Bundeswehr officers are encouraging the east Germans to find some value in their past. "These men are developing a story of their life for their children, and this story cannot be all one of failure," Hundt said. "But we do have to make corrections in this story. After all, we have two different German militaries, and history told us last fall, 'Right you are.' "