Germans seek ways to assist U.S. troops affected by Katrina
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Germany’s state of Rheinland-Pfalz wanted to show its solidarity with U.S. troops stationed in the region by helping those affected by Hurricane Katrina.
But American military officials shocked the state government by declining its offer to pay hurricane-stricken U.S. servicemembers stationed in the area as much as 1,000 euros per person.
The offer was declined because regulations prohibit U.S. military personnel from accepting money from other nations, according to correspondence from Army and Air Force officials to the German government, said Paul Prengel, a German government official who has acted as a liaison between the state and U.S. forces.
Although the government cannot pay the servicemembers directly, German and U.S. officials are trying to determine ways in which they can help hurricane victims indirectly, Prengel said.
While it is unknown how many servicemembers in the region would have been eligible for the cash payments, Prengel said the state government did not put a cap on the amount it was willing to dish out.
“We have not placed a limit on the number of people,” he said. “It could substantially be a very large amount.”
Rheinland-Pfalz hosts the largest U.S. military and civilian population overseas, with about 60,000 Americans in the region. The area is home to Ramstein Air Base and the largest collection of combat arms units outside the States, at Baumholder.
Meanwhile, lawyers from the state government and the U.S. military have been trying to find alternative ways of offering aid to the victims without violating rules on both sides, Prengel said. Air Force and Army officials could not be reached for official comment.
An Army spokesman acknowledged, however, that there have been talks between the military and the state government to seek a resolution.
Days after the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, Rheinland-Pfalz minister of interior Karl Peter Bruch announced the offer to U.S. troops stationed in the area and expressed his solidarity with them. “In the name of the federal state government and the population of Rheinland-Pfalz, I express to you our deeply felt sympathy,” he wrote in a September press release posted on the government’s Web site.
In addition to offering American soldiers hurricane aid, the state government, in conjunction with a shoe company in Pirmasens, recently sent 50,000 pairs of shoes to the Gulf Coast. The retail value of the shoes is about $3 million, Prengel said.