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Blue buses parked after Frankfurt shootings

By MARK PATTON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 9, 2011

FRANKFURT, Germany — One week after a gunman shouting “Allahu Akbar” opened fire on a conspicuous American military transport bus outside Frankfurt International Airport, killing two U.S. airmen and wounding two others, the U.S. military has suspended its use of such blue school buses, according to airport officials.

The blue buses were used only for special groups of servicemembers transiting the airport, one military official said.

But in the wake of the shooting incident, a chorus of critics inside and outside the military condemned the use of the distinctive American buses as obvious targets for terrorists.

Ramstein Air Base is continuing its longstanding daily shuttle service from the Frankfurt airport, utilizing nondescript German buses, for the majority of U.S. servicemembers and families on routine travel who need ground transportation.

Air Force officials would not comment on what type of transportation would replace the blue buses.

“Force protection remains a top priority for the command,” Michael Kucharek, spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, wrote in an e-mail response to questions. “As such, we will not discuss specific force protection measures to include the ways in which Airmen are transported within theater.”

Military police customs officers at the airport said security procedures are being evaluated, but said they could not elaborate.

USO Frankfurt employees, who did not want to be identified, could not say how often the blue buses were used in the past or whether the halting of the blue buses was temporary.

Despite frequent public service announcements on U.S. military bases and command warnings to American servicemembers to keep a low profile when travelling abroad, American troops can still easily be spotted clustered in groups at the Frankfurt airport.

If their American-style clothes and military haircuts don’t give them away, the luggage carts full of military-issued duffel bags and backpacks most certainly do. Some soldiers can be seen in their Army uniforms.

One officer at the airport Wednesday to pick up a colleague said his unit has warned troops not to be obvious and to be careful going downtown after last week’s shooting. But the officer, wearing his uniform, said he had not been advised to avoid wearing his uniform.

“First I’ve heard of that,” said the officer, from 1-91 Cavalry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. “I’ve always come to the airport in uniform.”

Meanwhile, the two airmen wounded in the March 2 shooting are “doing well,” the Air Force spokesman said.

Senior Airman Edgar Veguilla, from Wichita Falls, Texas, and Staff Sgt. Kristoffer Schneider, of Irwin, Pa., were on a bus outside the airport when the suspect opened fire. Senior Airman Nicholas Alden, 25, of Williamston, S.C., and the Ramstein driver, Airman 1st Class Zachary Cuddeback, 21, of Stanardsville, Va., were killed in the attack.

“We can categorize both Staff Sgt. Kristoffer Schneider’s and Senior Airman Edgar Veguilla’s conditions as doing well and improving,” Kucharek said in an e-mail. He would not elaborate.

German police say a 21-year-old Frankfurt resident, Arid Uka, has confessed to the shooting and is being held.

DODDS buses

Around U.S. military bases in Europe, students have been reminded to watch for suspicious activity around school buses, Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe public affairs chief Bob Purtiman said.

DODDS-E chief of staff Harvey Gerry said school buses traveling off-post have a second adult on board, charged with keeping tabs on surroundings as part of longstanding anti-terrorism efforts.

In a Monday e-mail to parents, Vilseck High School principal Duane Werner warned that an attendant recently reported a person taking pictures of at least one school bus.

“This was reported to their chief and then down to our [school transportation office], the military police, and DODDS-E safety office,” he said.

Werner said in his e-mail that he has reminded students to stay vigilant.

“In light of the incident at Frankfurt this past week, we want to again stress safety and a security awareness,” he said. “Please talk with your son/daughter and reiterate the message that if they see something out of the ordinary that they need to let someone in authority know of the incident.”

pattonm@estripes.osd.mil

Stars and Stripes reporters John Vandiver and Seth Robson contributed to this story.