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Better top off your tank before driving to Benelux

Netherlands, Belgium have not switched to gas-ration cards used by military in Germany

By KEVIN DOUGHERTY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 26, 2009

SCHINNEN, Netherlands — Four times a week, Macaira Pinto drives her four-cylinder car 20 miles from her home near Geilenkirchen Air Base, Germany, to the main U.S. Army post in Schinnen, Netherlands.

Until recently she was able to purchase gas at Schinnen, where she works as a bank teller, or at a local Esso station, said her husband, Air Force Capt. Anthony Pinto. Now she has to mind the fuel gauge more than ever, since she and her husband are no longer authorized to purchase discounted gas in Netherlands.

“It hasn’t really affected us,” Anthony Pinto said. “We just always plan to get gas in Germany. It hasn’t been an inconvenience. The Esso card is extremely convenient.”

Convenient, yes, but not Benelux bound, not yet at least.

With authorized personnel in Germany now using the fuel ration card system instead of coupons, USAG Schinnen has outlined new procedures for purchasing fuel in the Netherlands. Without official travel or leave orders, personnel will have to buy gas on the economy if they find themselves in a petro pinch.

“It was really driven by (U.S. forces in Germany) going to the card,” said Capt. Eric Jonker, an Army lawyer based at Schinnen.

The new procedures comply with the status of forces agreement between the United States and Netherlands. Within the country, there are about 3,880 vehicles registered to Americans, according to Tom Budzyna, citing figures from Joint Force Command in nearby Brunssum.

Since they and their U.S. counterparts in Belgium remain on the paper-coupon system, where station attendants deduct liters from a ration form as they are used, the clarification won’t have any impact on them. There is no announced plan to make a similar switch in the Benelux, Jonker said.

“That’s to be determined at a later date,” he said. “For now, the coupons serve our interest.”

Prior to this year, customers on both sides of the German-Dutch border used “dual-use” coupons that could be redeemed at authorized stations in either country. Now the coupons in circulation mention only the Netherlands.

Someone on temporary duty or authorized leave in Netherlands with the proper paperwork would draw the gas from a supplemental limit of 200 liters that won’t count against their normal 400-liter allotment.

The adjustment stemmed from an internal review that recognized, Budzyna said, “the potential for loopholes.”