AVIANO AB, Italy — The 31st Fighter Wing has been in a giving mood for most of the year, handing out free license plates to those with cars registered on base.

But starting with the new year, security forces at Aviano Air Base will hand out tickets to those who haven’t accepted the Air Force’s generosity.

Personnel won’t be Grinch-like, though, and follow through with an initial proposal to not let those driving vehicles with AFI plates onto base.

“We’re not going to deny access to the base,” said Maj. John Quattrone, commander of the 31st Security Forces Squadron — at least not to those who are supposed to have access to the base.

An advertisement in the base newspaper on Nov. 28 had suggested just that.

“After Jan. 1, cars without cover plates will not be allowed on base. Do you have yours?” it asked in bold letters.

The answer for most people assigned to the base, according to Tech. Sgt. Henry Richer, is yes. He said there are about 6,400 vehicles registered at Aviano. Since March, when Aviano stepped up its effort to get airmen and civilians on base to convert to the plates that Italians use on their vehicles, almost 4,500 cover plates have been issued. Richer said hundreds of people at the base already had cover plates at that point, bringing the number above 5,000.

The ad apparently had a delayed effect on the base’s population. It didn’t create an immediate rush, but the pass and identification office, where Richer is the noncommissioned officer in charge, has been a busy place lately.

“We’re finding a lot of people who have put it off,” he said.

Now, there are only three days left for those who want to avoid a ticket. The tickets won’t initially cost the recipient any money. They’ll be given 72 hours to pick up the new plates and put them on their vehicles. After that, Quattrone said, first sergeants and supervisors will join the picture.

He said he doesn’t know why anyone would shy away from getting the plates.

“I think it’s a great deal for everyone,” he said. “When I was stationed here a few years ago, I had them and I had to pay for them.”

Until the start of the year, that was the case. But Gen. Gregory Martin, then U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander, decided to change that in April.

In a letter announcing the policy, Martin said the distinctive Armed Forces Italy plates “put Aviano personnel in imminent danger of attack from terrorists or anti-American citizens in the general populace.”

Attacks on vehicles with AFI plates have been relatively infrequent, but there have been some cases — including a handful in the last year near Aviano and Vicenza.

So Martin directed the base to receive funds to purchase plates and give them to all those assigned to the base.

“We’ve spent over $40,000 in the last year getting the plates,” Richer said.

The plates don’t fit on all vehicles, though. Richer said smaller plates are on order and vehicles that can’t accept the longer plates will be given stamps and paperwork to display until the conversion.

All other American military installations in Italy started to openly encourage — or require — their personnel to get the plates this year. The Army was the first to announce it would purchase plates for all its personnel, saving soldiers money and sometimes long delays in receiving them.

Lt. Col. Tom Collins, a spokesman for the Southern European Task Force (Airborne), said most personnel assigned to bases in Vicenza, Verona and Camp Darby have made the changes.

“The bottom line is that we’re just telling people to get registered [with cover plates],” he said.

author picture
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 almost 38 years.

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