Base workers question whether US military’s Italy vehicle policy is a safety risk
January 24, 2019
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — D.j. Tressler bought a beat-up Fiat Punto when he arrived in Naples last year for a civilian job with the Navy, but when it came time to replace the junker, the base vehicle registration office told him he was stuck with the car.
On Dec. 19, the engine in Tressler’s beater erupted, spewing smoke and oil on the highway and leaving Tressler’s wife and 8-month-old stranded on the side of the road for 45 minutes.
Tressler said a military regulation in Italy that restricts the number of vehicles that can be registered on a given tour to just three — even if the previously registered vehicles have been disposed or aren’t reliable — is putting safety at risk.
“It is my job to protect my family. This policy put them in harm’s way,” said Tressler, who posted the comment in a Facebook group and later spoke with Stars and Stripes. “This could have been prevented if I was permitted to replace the vehicle when it was necessary, before it failed.”
In Italy, policy states that servicemembers and civilians must make a special request if they want to register a personal vehicle for a fourth time during their tours. The three-car limit often doesn’t become an issue for servicemembers and their families, who do two- to three-year tours, unless the vehicles they buy are lemons or they’re involved in accidents.
But for civilians, which also includes NATO employees and U.S. teachers at military schools, assignments can last for many years.
A spokesman for the Navy in Naples, which operates a central vehicle registration for all services in Italy, said that in most cases, requests for registering a fourth car are approved and those that aren’t are because people aren’t providing the requested documentation.
Some civilians, however, dispute the Navy’s characterization of the request process, saying decisions are inconsistent and rejections sometimes come with no explanation.
Clarifying policies In Tressler’s case, he bought a used car when he arrived in Naples to get to work while waiting for the arrival of his vehicle from the states.
He also had a motorcycle he wanted to sell, which counted as a third registered vehicle. When he wanted to replace the older used car, authorities at vehicle registration told him he reached his limit. An exception was denied because the beater he bought when he arrived was still running, Tressler said.
“I think that a family should be able to identify a necessary adjustment and act before it puts them in an unsafe situation,” Tressler wrote on “Living Abroad in Naples Italy - Uncensored, Uncut,” a community Facebook site. “There must be a better method for managing abuse of the vehicle registration system.”
A 2004 regulation covering all services with bases in Italy limits sponsors to possessing three registered vehicles at one time – a rule that also applies for servicemembers in Germany and some other countries. But the tri-component regulation didn’t set explicit limits on the number of registrations during tours.
It wasn’t until 2012 that Naval Support Activity Naples’ commander issued a policy clarification that spelled out the registration limit per tour. He also required every base vehicle registration director in Italy to get written permission from one person – the central Motor Vehicle Registration Office director in Naples – before approving any exceptions.
The 2012 clarification states the circumstances that dictate exceptions: “Unforeseen situations, including but not limited to: theft, accident, or mechanical breakdown may arise where a sponsor seeks (Allied Forces Italy) registration for a fourth replacement vehicle. These situations should be rare exceptions used to facilitate sponsor’s legitimate transportation needs in Italy.”
Those frustrated with the system say the process should better account for workers who remain in Italy for extended periods.
Jennifer Hanretty, a teacher at Aviano Elementary School in northern Italy, also has had multiple requests for an exception rejected by the Naples office, which is about 500 miles southwest of Aviano.
Hanretty said the problem isn’t entirely with the regulation. She said some colleagues have had exceptions approved to upgrade their cars while others get denied under the same circumstances, she said.
“The (vehicle registration) director’s inconsistent decisions about whether to grant or deny a vehicle request needs to be explained,” she said. “Members should have the ability to make decisions about buying and selling vehicles without having to guess whether their application will be accepted or rejected.”
Communication breakdowns Another complaint is that the central registration office is slow to respond to requests, with some personnel reporting waits as long as three months for a decision.
“The problem is there is no rhyme or reason to who gets approved and doesn’t,” said Dub Andrew, a Navy civilian in Naples who commented on Facebook and later chatted with Stars and Stripes.
Andrew said he met the regulation’s intent but was denied for a fourth registration, until his chain of command got involved and the decision was reversed. “Still no solid explanation was given why it was originally disapproved, and others are approved,” he said.
Tressler added that he received unwarranted criticism in a series of emails with a vehicle office worker, which he provided to Stars and Stripes.
The central MVRO did ultimately approve his request for a fourth registration after his Fiat died and he sold his motorcycle, which he says he was erroneously told at his prior stateside post wouldn’t count toward the registration limit if he didn’t drive it.
“I feel that I was very straightforward in my messages, in fact, I feel that I shouldn’t have to share my personal reasons and feelings in this way with a stranger while I beg for permission to take care of my family,” Tressler wrote in an email response to the MVRO. “If it weren’t for this restriction and inherent ‘shaming’ that comes with it, the Punto would have been replaced a year ago and we never would have had a problem.”
There are no plans to change the existing policy, said Navy Lt. Tim Pietrack, a spokesman for Navy Region Europe, Africa, and Southwest Asia.
“It’s important to note that we are doing everything possible to help the servicemembers and civilians,” Pietrack said in a phone interview. “People looking to add a fourth vehicle need to submit the required documentation to the MVRO. The documentation we ask for isn’t anything different of what you would submit to your insurance company, when replacing a vehicle.”