Some Americans say Europe bases not secure yet
April 24, 2007
Amanda Garcia could have been anyone.
When she waltzed onto a military housing area in southwestern Germany on Sunday, she used a little-traveled footpath that gives access to the complex’s homes, schools and social service facilities. Not a glance from a guard; no identification card check required, she said.
“I was blown away by it,” said Garcia, the wife of an Army sergeant. “It’s like you’re asking for it.”
Garcia, 27, said she ran her security test after reading news reports that the German authorities are monitoring a group of suspected terrorists thought to be planning attacks on U.S. bases or diplomatic buildings in the country.
On Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Germany posted a message that aired on American Forces Network stating that Americans in Germany face an increased threat of terrorism and warned them to be on the lookout.
At bases around Europe, word of the heightened threat condition provoked reactions ranging from fear to complacency.
At a base in Hessen, the gate is kept open at one housing area, enabling walkers and drivers to move in and out freely, according to resident Melanie Buckley.
“We are sitting ducks,” Buckley wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
Buckley said she believes that the city wants to leave the gate open so people can use one of the streets as a shortcut to their places of business.
“At any given time there are any number, shape and size of box trucks, loading vans, semis and metal trailers parked in various places up and down our streets, coming and going at all hours of the day and night. How do you report something unusual in that case?” Buckley wrote.
Military public affairs officers could not provide an immediate explanation Monday regarding the situations reported by Garcia and Buckley.
Meanwhile, reaction to the heightened threat level was mixed in other parts of Germany, England and Italy.
“We see [warning messages] all the time, so I wasn’t too worried about it,” said Marcus Hampton, a 21-year-old dependent in Naples, Italy.
European Command officials announced security exercises would start Saturday night at a number of military bases throughout Europe. The announcement noted the U.S. Embassy warning, but it did not say whether the exercises were in response to Friday’s alert. Only the U.S. Embassy in Germany has issued such a warning.
Navy officials in Naples sent an e-mail message Monday morning telling residents of a force protection exercise and alerted them of possible traffic delays at the base gates. The security bulletin proved more frustrating than anything else for Senior Chief Petty Officer Joe Caragiulo, a drug- and-alcohol counselor with Naval Hospital Naples, who saw the alert on AFN.
“My only concern was the lack of information,” Caragiulo said Monday. “They put out a threat advisory without telling us what to be vigilant for, what prompted it, where it came from. More information would have been nice.”
In a separate e-mail, Navy officials said all Naples-based commands now must review their force protection plans and increase random anti-terrorism measures.
As for the Army, “We constantly review our security posture and maintain the flexibility to increase or decrease that posture based on current conditions,” said Bruce Anderson, a U.S. Army Europe spokesman.
For some, occasional threat warnings are nothing new and part of living overseas.
“I think for any American out of the States you’re more susceptible to terrorism,” said Mirando Mayo, whose husband is based in Kaiserslautern.
In the United Kingdom, one resident said she didn’t think gate security was good enough.
“I really don’t feel safe on base because they let British cops on base [without checking IDs],” said Stacey Hegler, a civilian dependent at RAF Mildenhall, England. “Anyone could have been in that car.”
For her part, Garcia wants to see steps taken to strengthen security. Pedestrians only recently have been able to gain access to this particular area via the footpath, Garcia said. With a portion of the housing complex being turned over to German citizens, traffic patterns and access points were altered.
“In my opinion, more patrols should be going on. I’d love to see them put a fence up,” said Garcia, who only noticed the security hole a few days ago.
Staff writers Sandra Jontz, Scott Schonauer and Ben Murray contributed to this report.