Subscribe
Rainer Mueller, right, chief of the Environmental Management Flight at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, explains the base's expansion plans to members of the local German media. The reporters, who were invited to the base by Ramstein's public affairs office, are monitoring the base's sensitivity to the environment.

Rainer Mueller, right, chief of the Environmental Management Flight at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, explains the base's expansion plans to members of the local German media. The reporters, who were invited to the base by Ramstein's public affairs office, are monitoring the base's sensitivity to the environment. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Ramstein officials gave a tour Friday to local German reporters who are keeping an eye on the environmental impact of construction at the air base.

Four reporters were escorted through the area being prepared for a new airstrip.

Anke Herbert, a reporter for 12 years at the Kaiserslautern-based Rheinpfalz newspaper, said residents around Ramstein and throughout Germany value their land.

“The United States is a very big country, but Germany is so small,” Herbert said. “We’re interested in protecting nature and recreation areas. For a lot of people, it’s not so nice that trees are falling down.”

A Ramstein spokeswoman said the base feels obligated to keep its neighbors up to date on the project.

“Before people started asking, we wanted to be able to tell them, ‘This is what we are doing,’ ” said Petra Day of the base’s public affairs office, noting that motorists on the nearby autobahn will be able to see the base after more trees are cut down.

The German reporters were driven around the airstrip in a van. Every now and then, the van stopped and the reporters got out to ask questions and take pictures.

The base was undergoing its usual hustle and bustle. Aircraft took off and landed every few minutes — giant cargo planes, small Lear-type jets, propeller planes, helicopters.

There were tall piles of dirt and stacks of downed trees — mostly fir, birch and oak. Diggers and dozers were lumbering back and forth, kicking up dust.

A man in an orange helmet was cutting down a birch tree with a chain saw.

Even though the van was being driven by Ramstein officials, it was not unchecked as it motored about. Security officers twice approached the entourage to see what was up.

In addition to the Rheinpfalz reporter, reporters came from the newspaper in nearby Pirmasens and a federal public radio station.

Darlene Cowsert, another Ramstein public affairs officer, said the base did not have to give the tour.

“We consider ourselves — and want to be — good environmental neighbors,” Cowsert said. “We want the Germans to understand we’re only doing what is necessary.”

Rainer Mueller, chief of the 16-person 86th Environmental Management Flight, said the project is affecting more than 900 acres.

As compensation, Mueller said more than 1,600 acres at sites around Ramstein will be improved. Trees will be planted at the sites and ditches there will be upgraded.

Animals such as frogs and dragonflies will be moved to safe areas and new breeding grounds for birds will be established.

“It cost a lot of money, but it has to be done,” Mueller said.

The total construction cost for projects at Ramstein and Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, is about $410 million, which includes about $11 million to comply with environmental requirements. The air bases at Ramstein and Spangdahlem are scheduled to take over operations currently performed at Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt. Rhein-Main is scheduled to close in December 2005.

The projects are being paid for by U.S. and German taxpayers and the Frankfurt Airport Co., which will be taking over Rhein-Main.

“There has to be a benefit because there is an impact on [German residents],” said Herbert, the Rheinpfalz reporter.

Earlier this year, Ramstein received first place for U.S. Air Force bases worldwide in the 2002 Gen. Thomas D. White Environmental Quality Award ceremony May 7 at the Pentagon.

“This organization works hard to ensure that environmental standards are exceeded,” Brig. Gen. Erwin F. Lessel III, 86th Airlift Wing commander, said at the time.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now