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HEIDELBERG, Germany — Only a handful of Mark Twain Village residents turned out Wednesday for a town hall meeting on force protection, even though there are ongoing anti-war protests in their back yards.

About 700 families live in the unfenced housing area adjacent to U.S. Army Europe headquarters. About 20 residents attended the hour-long information session.

“This was actually our best turnout,” said Lt. Col. Earl Teeter, commander of the 411th Base Support Battalion. “We try to get the word out.”

The area has been the focal point for large anti-war demonstrations over the past few months. Each Saturday, large crowds march through the housing area on Römerstrasse.

While the protests are mostly peaceful, acts of vandalism have increased since the start of the war in Iraq. Protesters blocked traffic along the main thoroughfare and painted peace signs on the street. Rowdy teens hurled eggs and insults at soldiers behind the fence of nearby Campbell Barracks. Some demonstrators camp out along the sidewalks.

With another large demonstration planned for Saturday, Teeter suggested avoiding the protests.

“Where don’t you want to be at [1 p.m.] on Saturday? Bismarkplatz,” Teeter said, refering to the downtown shopping area. “You probably want to avoid hanging out around the main gate of Campbell Barracks.”

Teeter outlined threat condition levels the military uses, focusing on what the community can expect when the levels increase.

Gene Hindle, a safety officer for the Heidelberg school district, detailed security measures the Department of Defense Dependents Schools has put in place to protect children.

The few soldiers’ wives who attended the meeting brought along a list of concerns.

One woman asked if military police driving past could slow down. Another woman asked about signs written in German that forbid access to the housing area.

The signs that went up this week upset some German neighbors and were taken down, said Maj. Bill Hollingsworth, the director of public works.

“We’re going to put up some more gently worded signs,” Hollingsworth said.

Residents also complained that vandals with spray paint cans continue to strike buildings in the housing area. That problem goes back a decade, Teeter said.

“They write things that are unpleasant to Americans,” Teeter said, describing the graffiti. “It’s more a nuisance than a threat.”

The Army has identified two people as suspects in the recurring graffiti strikes, Teeter said. Military police are working with their German counterparts to catch the culprits and prosecute them, he said.

The Army is building a fence around part of the housing area. Work should begin April 28 and be finished by the end of July, Teeter said. Meanwhile, residents can learn how to watch out for their own community.

Teeter encouraged residents to join the Safe Neighborhood Awareness Program, known as SNAP, noting that the next training session is Monday.

A similar force protection town hall meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at the Patrick Henry Village Chapel.


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