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SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany — German servicemembers returned gate guard duties to U.S. forces at four American installations during ceremonies Wednesday to mark the handover and say goodbye.

U.S. Air Force Col. Dave Goldfein, commander of Spangdahlem’s 52nd Fighter Wing, said the departure of the German guards is difficult and not unlike bidding farewell to someone in the family.

Hundreds of German servicemembers arrived at American bases throughout the country right before the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 to help with security. During that time, many of the German military members developed friendships with Americans stationed at the bases.

“This is really a sad day for Spangdahlem,” Goldfein said.

By request, Germany agreed to send its troops to U.S. bases to free up American security forces to deploy across the globe in the war on terrorism. Initially, as many as 4,000 German troops provided gate security at U.S. installations.

This week, the German military returned that responsibility back to American military forces at Spangdahlem, Wiesbaden Army Airfield, and Mannheim’s Spinelli Barracks and Taylor Barracks.

Under a new plan, Germans will continue to guard Ramstein Air Base, Sembach Annex in the Kaiserslautern area and the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch.

Having Germans guard the gates at Spangdahlem and nearby Bitburg allowed the base to send 450 airmen to Afghanistan and Iraq. Without the help of the German military, Goldfein said, sending the airmen and keeping the bases in Germany safe would have been impossible.

Cmdr. Senior Grade Andreas Mugge, commander in chief of the German Naval Protection Force, said every time he visited his sailors at Spangdahlem he got the impression that they liked being there, adding that they often played softball, soccer and basketball with their American counterparts.

“A lot of personal relationships have been built and many gestures of friendship have taken place the last month,” he said during the ceremony. “Thank you for that. It makes it much easier and pleasurable to support you.”

With the parting of the German guards, their familiar salute to all who enter the base will also be gone.

Just as they do at German military installations, German guards saluted every motorist who entered a U.S. military base — whether the person was a high-ranking officer or a civilian contractor. Generally, only officers require a salute in the U.S. military.

Col. Erwin Mattes, chief of staff of the German army’s Regional Defense Command, said it is standard policy for German gate guards to salute everyone entering the installation.

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