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A year ago, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service announced that January 2004 gas prices would drop for a third consecutive month.

Not a bad way to usher in the New Year.

But from that point on, as most Americans stationed in Europe know, the price of gas rose sharply, more or less mirroring what was happening in the United States. A gallon of regular unleaded gas in Germany, for example, climbed from $1.67 in January 2004 to $2.16 in December. (See chart at end of story.)

From the beginning of the year on, prices “went straight up,” said Joe Giuffreda, vice president of AAFES-Europe.

Officials attribute the sharp increase to dwindling supplies and heightened demand worldwide.

Prices at AAFES filling stations leveled out in late summer, but began climbing again in the fall.

Now, as was the case a year ago, AAFES fuel prices are coming down for the month of January.

On average, all grades of fuel will cost 11 to 13 cents a gallon less than in December, according to AAFES officials.

In Germany, the price of regular unleaded fuel is dropping from $2.16 a gallon to $2.05, while the cost of a gallon of super unleaded fuel will decrease from $2.27 to $2.15. Super plus unleaded will drop from $2.36 to $2.25 and the price of diesel fuel will slip from $2.33 to $2.21 a gallon.

Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, AAFES customers will see the price of super unleaded gas fall from $2.20 a gallon to $2.09. Likewise, the price of diesel will drop in January from $2.27 a gallon to $2.14.

In Netherlands, the gallon price for super unleaded fuel will decrease from $2.27 to $2.15, while the cost of super-plus unleaded will fall from $2.52 to $2.35 a gallon. Diesel fuel dropped from $2.51 to $2.48 a gallon.

“We go with the Department of Energy average from the previous month,” Giuffreda said, explaining the prices. “We’re always a month behind.”

AAFES sets its prices based on the average cost of fuel in the United States, which is checked weekly by the Department of Energy. The prices are taken from the previous month and then dispensing costs are factored in.

Troops, civilians and dependents in Italy, Spain, Turkey and the Azores also have felt the rising cost of fuel at the pump. However, rates there aren’t adjusted so often. Rates in Turkey and the Azores change annually, while Navy installations in Italy and Spain adjust prices separately from AAFES.

Overall, Giuffreda said, AAFES sold less fuel in 2004 than it did the previous year. Giuffreda attributed the drop off to the deployment of tens of thousands of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, though, he added, folks might be adjusting their driving patterns in response to higher fuel prices.

“We’ve pumped nine percent less gallons,” Giuffreda said. “Is that conservation? Who knows?”

Citing the Department of Energy, an AAFES news release stated that regular unleaded fuel in the United States is 33 cents a gallon more expensive than a year ago. However, AAFES figures for that same grade of gas in Germany show a rise of 49 cents.

Giuffreda didn’t know why that was the case, but he insisted that AAFES is sticking to its policy of going by the Energy Department figures. From time to time there will be anomalies, he said, noting that AAFES is mandated to make money, and then to pour the money back into military communities in the form of improved facilities and quality-of-life programs.

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