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GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Army engineers are using trees, ditches, swales and rocks to make it harder for terrorists to attack this U.S. Army post.

Natural force protection is being encouraged at Army posts worldwide not only because it’s more aesthetically pleasing, but also because it is cheaper that traditional measures.

In recent years, the Army has spent about $1 billion to expand the base at the Grafenwöhr Training Area, including millions of dollars in landscaping that includes hundreds of trees and rocks strategically placed around the new buildings.

"The emphasis is to do as much natural-looking force protection as possible so it doesn’t look like you are in a prison or gulag," said Andy Spendlove, a Directorate of Public Works engineer at the base.

These natural barriers can effectively prevent cars or trucks from reaching buildings, Spendlove said, and they usually are much cheaper to build than traditional force-protection structures.

"If you say, ‘I need bollards every meter-and-a-half that will stop a two-ton vehicle moving at 50 miles per hour,’ it gets expensive," he said. Bollards are steel-reinforced cement posts.

Instead workers are placing 600 massive yellowish rocks around key buildings, such as the Joint Multinational Training Command headquarters, to protect them from car bombs, Spendlove said.

The rocks come from a quarry about 20 miles north of Grafenwöhr in the town of Fichtelgebirge.

"We looked at bollards but they were more than 1,000 euros each," Spendlove said. "The rocks only cost 55 euros each."

Hills, swales and berms also can be used to change a vehicle’s direction or slow it down, while trees, ditches and rocks can stop them in their tracks. And shrubs can be used to hide cables strung between trees to stop vehicles from driving between them, he said.

Plus, natural force protection means soldiers live and work in a more pleasant environment, he said.

Some 450 trees have already been planted as part of a $4.5 million landscaping program that started in July and is expected to be completed by January, according to Peter Barth, regional project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Grafenwöhr.

Another 700, 20-year-old maple trees, some of which will provide force protection, are being planted at the post as part of its expansion.

Efficient Basing Grafenwöhr — the Army’s name for a massive expansion of the training area — encompasses 150 projects, including 50 new buildings and 100 renovated buildings, according to garrison spokeswoman Susanne Bartsch.

The projects have allowed Grafenwöhr to expand from a facility with 1,000 military personnel to one with 4,500 servicemembers, 8,500 family members, hundreds of American civilian workers and 2,000 German employees.

Ironically, several thousand pine trees were cut down to make way for the on-base construction.

The trees — some more than 100 years old — are being cut up to sell as firewood, according to Joseph Wildbrett, chief of grounds and roads at USAG Grafenwöhr.

"In World War II, the Americans bombed the whole site. There is a lot of metal in the wood, and they can’t be used for construction," he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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