Spate of DUI arrests highlights enduring problem near Army base in Grafenwoehr
By MARCUS KLOECKNER AND WILL MORRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 2, 2017
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — U.S. soldiers driving under the influence of alcohol are a recurring problem around the U.S. Army’s Grafenwoehr Training Area in rural northern Bavaria, German police said.
In a recent string of incidents on Sunday, German police said they pulled over three cars where the drivers — all U.S. soldiers — were under the influence of alcohol.
Unlike in Japan or South Korea — where an arrest involving a U.S. servicemember can trigger large protests and public apologies from flag-level officers — Germany rarely sees local rancor directed toward the U.S. military. U.S. personnel and their families outnumber Germans in some towns, which gain large economic benefits from their presence.
Nevertheless, U.S. officials are aware that such incidents can inflame sensibilities if they go unchecked.
“Community security is my number one priority as garrison commander,” Col. Lance Varney, USAG Bavaria garrison commander said in a statement Thursday following questions from Stars and Stripes. “We are very closely integrated with the German authorities and their emergency management systems. Together, we meet regularly and maintain a strong relationship.”
At 1 p.m. on Sunday, police stopped a 30-year-old soldier at Alte Amberger Strasse. About 90 minutes later, police pulled over a 21-year-old soldier for driving while under the influence. Thirty minutes later, police stopped a 19-year-old on the same street.
Charges are pending against the 30-year-old, but police refused to release his blood alcohol content, citing privacy policies. The 21-year-old had a blood alcohol content close to .05, which is the legal limit in Germany. Police allowed his wife to drive the car away.
The 19-year-old was turned over to military police and his car was confiscated.
According to German law, driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.11 or above is considered a more serious criminal offense.
Eschenbach Deputy Chief of Police Armin Bock said one of the reasons that U.S. soldiers are found driving under the influence of alcohol was “the rotation of the troops.”
Grafenwoehr is the Army’s largest overseas training area, with support for U.S. and NATO troops sharpening skills for tanks, small arms, close air support and other activities.
“New soldiers come here quite often,” he said. “Often, they are not sensitive enough to how Germany is treating drivers who are caught behind the wheel when they are drunk.”
He also said that there were many young soldiers who sometimes were not mature enough to understand the risks of drinking and driving.
Bock said the German police are in close cooperation with military police. Both the Germans and the military police will revamp their education and prevention programs, he said. Bock declined to provide numbers on DUIs over the past few years involving servicemembers because he said the police would not want to make soldiers look bad.
More Americans get arrested for DUIs than Germans around Grafenwoehr, Bock said, but he added that Americans considerably outnumber the German population in the area.
Garrison figures provided for November of last year and this month through Nov. 29 show little change in incidents. There were 24 combined incidents of assault, DUI and drunk and disorderly conduct last year in Bavaria involving U.S. personnel, compared to 26 this month.
“And while the numbers don’t indicate a spike in DUI’s, we have an obligation to ourselves and to the citizens of Bavaria to reduce and eliminate all cases of drinking and driving,” said Lt. Col. Mike Burden, the garrison’s director of emergency services, in a statement.
The garrison’s efforts at combating drinking and driving include discussions by military police on American Forces Network Radio, joint courtesy patrols and on-post checkpoints, among other actions, he said.
“We’re taking a holistic approach to include education, prevention and ensuring perpetrators receive due justice,” Burden said.
German and military police meet quarterly to discuss mutual concerns, garrison officials added Thursday. The next meeting’s agenda will include many issues, such as policing statistics, patrol schedules, investigations and alcohol-related incidents, Army officials said.
In March, a U.S. soldier with a blood alcohol content of .096 caused an accident in which another soldier died and two others were seriously injured. Spc. Tyler Vaughan, a 22-year-old soldier stationed in Vilseck, Germany, died when the vehicle veered off the road and rolled into a tree near the Grafenwoehr main gate.