More than 1,000 military identification cards are lost or stolen each month in Europe, potentially opening base gates to terrorists or setting up troops to have their identities stolen.

So far this year, U.S. Army Europe has replaced 9,600 missing or stolen cards, while U.S. Air Forces in Europe has given out about 3,000 replacement cards. The Navy — with the smallest population among the services in Europe — did not provide specific figures, but said its numbers were much lower.

Reissued cards make up about 10 percent of the IDs handed out every year, military officials said.

With the potential for terrorism looming, the issue has raised concern — particularly with the Army, although officials can’t point to a specific incident of someone trying to use a stolen ID card to gain access to a base.

“Every lost ID card can be translated into a possible unauthorized entrance to our installations and housing areas,” according to Brig. Gen. Jason Kamiya, commander of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) in Vicenza, Italy.

Kamiya recently raised the issue in the 22nd Area Support Group’s newspaper, The Outlook. In Vicenza, 522 cards were reported missing in the first nine months of 2004, more than half belonging to active-duty personnel.

In addition to the obvious potential for unauthorized access to bases, those who lose their cards are opening themselves up to other problems.

“This can be compared to giving a stranger the keys to your house and the personal identification numbers to your personal bank accounts,” Kamiya wrote.

In the last five years, 27.3 million Americans have been victims of identity theft, including 9.9 million people in 2002 alone, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

“The information on your ID card provides possible criminals everything they need to cause you serious, and sometimes permanent, financial harm,” Kamiya wrote.

Military officials say they can’t calculate the loss in money and manpower it takes to replace ID cards. The Army says it costs $4.25 to replace the card given to soldiers and civilian employees, who receive about 75 percent of the cards issued.

The replacement cost of cards given to most family members is 50 cents.

But Millie Waters, a public affairs officer for the Installation Management Agency-Europe, said there’s no way to calculate the time away from work that people spend while trying to replace their cards.

In Italy, Kamiya has promised that his command would take action against those thought to be acting irresponsibly with their cards. Pointing out that 37 people in Vicenza had lost more than one card during the year, he said active-duty personnel and civilians face counseling and potential punishments if they’re judged to be negligent.

Servicemembers could even face “severe administrative actions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” Kamiya stated.

Early reporting

Once a servicemember notices that his ID is missing, he needs to tell the security personnel right away, said Lt. Col. Carol McKinney, chief of law enforcement division for the USAREUR provost marshal.

The introduction of the Installation Access Control System should make it much harder for those with stolen cards to get on base, McKinney said. That’s because the scanners that check the cards will help guards tell if a card has been reported stolen.

The Army says it is about halfway through its IACS installation process, with the Air Force expected to start installing the system early next year.

But IACS won’t be able to detect stolen cards unless cardholders report them to base authorities.

Even better, McKinney said, is to keep it safe in the first place.

“An ID card should be considered a sensitive document and appropriately safeguarded as such,” she said.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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