WüRZBURG, Germany — Drive into the Lincoln Housing area just outside Würzburg’s Leighton Barracks, and you could be driving onto any secure military base.

There’s a heavy, wrought-iron fence anchored in concrete, a bulletproof guard house, a covered area for searching vehicles and a drop-arm barricade to bar invaders.

That’s quite different from the way Lincoln looked three years ago. Back then, its unguarded parking lots opened onto a busy German street. Its back playground offered no protection against intruders from neighboring yards.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks woke up Army security officials to the risks of wide-open, off-base military housing complexes. They closed down some smaller ones in Europe, and rushed soldiers to guard larger ones such as Lincoln.

They also began solving the long-term puzzle of protecting them.

Earlier this month, the Würzburg-based 98th Area Support Group finished its first housing-area security upgrade, at Lincoln, to mixed reviews from residents.

In September, it will start similar improvements at five other complexes which, though fenced and guarded, don’t reach NATO’s security standards.

They are at Askren Manor and Yorktown Housing in Schweinfurt; and Marshall Heights, Richtofen and Corlette Circle in Kitzingen.

Lincoln’s upgrade began in March 2003. The stairwell apartment complex includes six buildings, home to 72 families of field-grade officers. Most are with the Würzburg-based 1st Infantry Division, which is currently serving in Iraq.

The $1.4 million project fenced in the entire 6.3-acre site and replaced a small wooden guardhouse with a sturdier one. A small lane and traffic circle have replaced what used to be a parking lot.

“Armed guards, fences front and back — it’s definitely a deterrent,” said Maj. Mike Alexander, who lives there with his wife and children. “It makes me feel secure. It’s a heckuva different place than it was three years ago.”

At a Lincoln Housing town meeting last week, though, some residents compared the community to a prison. They complained the private security guards talk too loudly at night, don’t always patrol the grounds and that it is easy to dig underneath some of the fences. Pedestrians and cars must now enter and leave the community through a single gate that they say is dangerous to those on foot.

“It’s not a better way of life for us,” said one officer’s wife, who did not give her name.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Harrison, the 98th ASG’s director of public works, said the designers of security projects such as these have to balance the looks and design with the need to protect families against threats no one imagined when these apartments opened.

“It looks very forbidding. It doesn’t look like happy family housing,” he said. But, he added, “It’s got to [have] a wall you can’t drive a truck through.”

Matt Swanson, deputy public works director for the Kitzingen-based 417th Base Support Battalion, told Lincoln residents he thought most of the problems they cited could be fixed easily. He thanked them for suggestions that will help make future projects better.

Swanson also encouraged them to think of their complexes as gated communities, not armed fortresses.

“It’s all to keep you safe,” he said. “The world has changed.”

98th ASG upgrade schedule

Estimated dates and costs for current and upcoming security upgrades in 98th Area Support Group projects:• Lincoln Housing, Würzburg — March 2003-August 2004, $1.2 million.• Askren Manor, Schweinfurt — September 2004-May 2005, $1.4 million.• Yorktown Housing, Schweinfurt — September 2004-April 2005, $1.2 million.• Corlette Circle, Kitzingen — September 2004-May 2005, $500,000.• Richtofen Housing, Kitzingen — September 2004-July 2005, $700,000.• Marshall Heights, Kitzingen — September 2004-September 2005, $900,000.

Upgrades will include any or all of the following: wall and wrought-iron fence in front of housing area; reinforced chain-link fence on back and sides; covered vehicle search area; security cameras; drop-arm barriers; bulletproof guardhouse; new access lanes.

—Source: 98th Area Support Group, Department of Public Works

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