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HEIDELBERG, Germany — The case of the illegal nannies was cracked when some nanny-associates were seen loading a motorcycle into a van.

The motorcycle looked just like the one on the fliers posted around Patrick Henry Village reporting a stolen motorcycle that very day, thought a woman watching. She called military police.

The MPs found the motorcycle. And that’s not all. They found the van, also containing clothes, cameras and food, apparently taken from family housing.

And they found a group of four eastern European nannies and housecleaners and two male associates, whose employers — U.S. soldiers and their spouses — had handed them keys for entrance to the post pedestrian gate.

The events took place last year.

“That sort of led us into, ‘What’s going on with the nannies on post?’” said Lt. Col. Deborah Anderson, provost marshal of U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg.

Those nannies and cleaners — all from Lithuania and who were hired by soldiers desperate for child care — were turned over to German police and were prosecuted, Anderson said. It was the only known problem the nannies had caused.

But the fact that there were people on post whom authorities knew nothing about sparked concerns about security, and another investigation.

“We wanted to identify who was on our installation,” Anderson said.

The “Nanny Task Force” permanently padlocked the pedestrian gate at Patrick Henry Village and put forth a concentrated effort to determine who was on post, how they got there, and why.

It required a lot of old-fashioned, shoe-leather police work.

Military police, Anderson said, knocked on every door at Patrick Henry and Mark Twain villages to see who lived there and who had keys to pedestrian gates.

In the end, military police found only about eight illegal nannies (in addition to the nannies implicated in the property theft). Anderson says it’s likely more had been living on post — possibly as many as 30.

“I highly suspect word got out,” Anderson said.

The women were living in quarters, usually in a bedroom, but in one case, in an off-limits attic space. They were paid in cash, up to 800 euros a month. Two of them took a bus home to Lithuania every three months or so, Anderson said, and stayed a few days before returning.

This arrangement violated several policies. U.S. Army Europe requires paperwork if nannies or others live on post. But to get approval, as well as an installation pass, a nanny has to provide her own background check — something few nannies travel with.

According to German laws, the nannies are supposed to have a German work permit and other papers for tax purposes. Anderson said that German authorities initially threatened to prosecute the soldiers with the undocumented nannies for tax nonpayment but have not done so.

At first, Anderson said, the plan on the garrison side was to evict the soldiers. But as the reasons for their actions became clearer, the military changed its approach.

“We didn’t charge them with anything,” Anderson said. “We started helping them.”

“What we started finding was very compelling cases,” Anderson said. “Junior, single parents with two or three kids and worked long hours (or late shifts).”

“We thought we were going to catch all these officers. We didn’t.” One major and seven enlisted servicemembers were involved, she said.

Soldiers had hired the nannies, often by word-of-mouth, because there was a waiting list for military child care or because their work hours weren’t covered by military child care.

They had given the nannies keys to pedestrian gates rather than sign them in — or in some cases at Patrick Henry Village, given them the wife’s identification card — because it was more convenient than signing them in.

Of the eight illegal nannies, Anderson said, three left. The five others got documentation and lived legally with their sponsors.

The garrison has devised a hand-out on “How to properly obtain a personal service employee.”

But one problem still remains, Anderson conceded — actually understanding the German rules and paperwork, which she said is confusing and seems inconsistent.

A couple of years ago when she needed child care, after a lot of research and hiring attempts through local authorities, she still didn’t have any.

“I admit I gave up. And I had a Polizei (German police officer) with me to translate,” she said.

In the end, she said, “My parents came over for three months.”

Loaning an ID card a no-no

Lending someone a military identification card so he can enter an installation has the potential to land a servicemember or authorized civilian in hot water.

Military-issue ID cards are U.S. government property issued to the carrier and must remain in his possession at all times, said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Traxinger, provost sergeant at Warner Barracks in Bamberg, Germany.

If a non-ID card holder is caught using someone else’s card to enter a military community, the card’s owner is subject to punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for failure to obey a lawful order or regulation. Most cases could result in nonjudicial punishment, Traxinger said.

If a soldier shows a pattern of misconduct, his commander may decide to initiate court-martial proceedings, he said. Prosecution of the person misusing the ID card would fall under either U.S. or German authorities, Traxinger said.

Traxinger added there is no scenario where a person — military or otherwise — would be allowed to use someone else’s ID card to get onto a base.

“It’s a zero-tolerance policy,” he said.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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