U.S. Air Forces in Europe will lift a ban on social media websites May 10, with plans to give airmen access on non-secure work computers to 85 Web destinations such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Airmen will be allowed limited personal use under regulations similar to how they can use e-mail and telephones, said Col. Nancy Reeves-Flores, USAFE director of communications.

But Reeves-Flores said the command expects airmen will find a greater benefit in being able to connect with military and civilian experts in various fields. Individuals or units could use various sites for training or acquiring new skills.

"There are some very good opportunities," she said.

The Department of Defense issued new guidelines in February on social media usage from military computers in an attempt to provide broader standards across the military. Many commands prohibited servicemembers from accessing social websites at work, while others allowed it.

In Europe, for instance, the Navy has let sailors access some social network sites such as Facebook and has encouraged efforts to promote its activities, said Lt. Brian Badura, a Navy spokesman in Naples, Italy. Naval Station Rota in Spain has more than 5,000 fans on Facebook, he said.

The Marines lifted a similar ban in March, though restrictions have yet to be eased in Europe. U.S. Army Europe announced last month it would lift restrictions and initiate training.

Daniel Hingtgen, chief of information assurance policy programs and training at USAREUR, said Thursday that, so far, more than 1,800 soldiers, civilians and high-school students have attended briefings on the subject.

The Air Force announced Monday that it would lift restrictions in phases around the service. Such an approach allows personnel to make changes to and monitor each system, Reeves-Flores said.

Despite the restrictions in place, USAFE personnel have been using social network sites in their work through special arrangements or on home computers. Aviano Air Base in Italy, for example, boasts more than 4,300 fans on Facebook, which it says is more than any other Air Force installation. Officials say roughly a third of those are airmen currently stationed at Aviano, another third were formerly stationed there and the remainder are Italian nationals.

USAREUR personnel have been posting on their own time.

A search of "Grafenwoehr" on YouTube reveals dozens of videos posted by Americans living in and around the German base, including a clip of two young girls dancing in their bedroom, soldiers wrestling in their barracks and a series of crank calls that fooled post office staffs into conversing with recordings from Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.

USAFE doesn’t expect airmen to post those types of videos at work.

"We have a professional and productive force," Reeves-Flores said.

The command views access to the social websites as a privilege and won’t allow it to interfere with mission-essential communication, she said.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.
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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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