Car rental company says items, vehicles left by careless airmen in England a growing concern
October 3, 2007
BRANDON — One Air Force staff sergeant left her military ID card, complete with her birth date and Social Security number, in her rental car.
Another former England-based airman forgot several bags full of prescription drugs from the Al Udeid Air Base pharmacy in her car. Despite calls from the rental company, she never retrieved them.
And two former 48th Fighter Wing airmen abandoned their rental cars at London airports.
For years, Stateside Car Rentals has been servicing the nearby Air Force community with little trouble. But lately, actions by less-than-responsible airmen have created concerns about items left behind and problems for the company representatives who have to sort things out.
Manager Brian Johnson said Stateside has long been retrieving airmen’s forgotten personal effects and military hardware from rental cars. He has even served as a middleman, shuffling wayward gear — gas masks, chemical warfare protective suits, weapons — from one airman to another.
“We usually have loads of stuff around here,” Johnson said. “And when they need something they’ll give us a call and we’ll go and get it. We’ve had boxes of [Meals, Ready to Eat], but we just slice them open and eat the Skittles, give the rest of it away.”
But a recent string of incidents has caused the company more serious problems.
Two former 48th Security Forces Squadron airmen rented cars from Stateside only to abandon them at the airport. In at least one case, the car rental agency lost possession of the car as it was confiscated by the airport authority.
Both offenders were recently booted from the force for undisclosed reasons, according to the 48th Fighter Wing.
Actions by other airmen have been equally irresponsible, and possibly criminal.
One who left a flak jacket in a rental told Johnson to sell it on eBay. Another locked his keys in his car and then argued with Johnson, who found a rifle in the back seat after unlocking it. The airman got angry and told Johnson to mind his own business after being told he couldn’t “leave a rifle like that lying out in your car.”
Military investigators have filed charges against several servicemembers for selling military hardware on eBay in recent years, while gun laws in England are far stricter than those in the United States.
Johnson also alleges a senior noncommissioned officer at RAF Mildenhall refused to pay to have a dent removed that he was responsible for. He threatened to order all his subordinates to avoid doing business with Stateside.
“I can tell you stories that you think can’t be right,” Johnson said. “We could just go on and on.”
Johnson said he tried to contact former 48th Fighter Wing commander Brig. Gen. Robert Steel earlier this year to discuss the problems but did not receive a reply.
Queries to other local car rental agencies by Stars and Stripes did not result in reports of similar experiences, but Johnson is convinced his experiences are not unique.
“I know this is going on elsewhere, it’s impossible that it’s not,” he said. “The Americans are just getting careless more and more with their stuff.”
In a statement to Stars and Stripes, Col. Mark Nowland, the 48th Fighter Wing vice commander, said there is nothing the Air Force can do about specific complaints raised by Johnson.
“We share the concerns of our local communities and make every effort to be great neighbors,” Nowland said.
“However, these servicemembers are no longer in the Air Force, and for that reason we do not have the authority to investigate allegations placed against them.
“Our community can be assured that in the event an airman is identified as causing problems off base, the issue will be addressed in coordination with our host nation agencies and taken care of in a timely, prudent and professional manner,” Nowland’s statement said.