Marines held up in Vienna en route to Ukraine
By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 30, 2015
Nine U.S. Marines en route to Ukraine for a training exercise were held up in Vienna for questioning last week because their weapons had not been properly declared, an Austrian newspaper reported.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. David Westover, a EUCOM spokesperson, said the Marines were traveling by commercial air from Alaska to Ukraine to participate in the Saber Guardian exercise.
“They were stopped while traveling on NATO travel orders through Vienna,” Westover said in a statement. The Austrian newspaper Kurier reported on its website Wednesday that the Marines were carrying weapons without the necessary clearance.
“Because there were problems with their onward flight in Schwechat (Vienna airport), they had to rebook and therefore leave the transit area,” Col. Michael Bauer, a Defense Ministry spokesman told the Kurier.
The ensuing security search of their luggage revealed M16 assault rifles and pistols, Kurier reported, which had not been declared or registered. The weapons were seized, and the Marines were taken for questioning, Kurier reported. Authorities contacted the U.S. Embassy.
Westover said the troops were in possession of their “assigned military equipment.”
“By unintentional oversight, the necessary clearances required for transiting Austria were not properly processed prior to their departure,” Westover said.
Although a member of the European Union, neutral Austria does not belong to NATO.
The Austrian government can allow the transit of foreign troops in certain circumstances, such as peacekeeping operations or international exercises, Kurier quoted Bauer as saying. “The Americans, however, had not filed a request,” he said.
An attempt by the U.S. Embassy to file the request after the fact was rejected for legal reasons, Kurier reported. Westover said in a telephone call that the Americans had to return to their home base in Alaska. They were allowed to take their weapons, a state prosecutor’s office told the paper.
“The Austrian authorities were very helpful in resolving this issue,” Westover said.