A car drives over a "tire shredder" installed at the main gate of Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday.

A car drives over a "tire shredder" installed at the main gate of Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday. (Kent Harris / S&S)

A car drives over a "tire shredder" installed at the main gate of Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday.

A car drives over a "tire shredder" installed at the main gate of Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Tuesday. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Bits of rubber from tires that were damaged by the "tire shredders."

Bits of rubber from tires that were damaged by the "tire shredders." (Kent Harris / S&S)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — A device designed to make personnel on base safer may be having the opposite effect on their cars.

The 31st Fighter Wing is asking all those assigned to Aviano — American or Italian — to get their vehicles inspected because of concerns that the so-called “tire shredders” installed at the gates may have caused serious damage to tires.

Col. Scott Chambers, commander of the 31st Mission Support Group, said inspections already carried out have found that some tires have indeed been damaged. He said rumors that hundreds of tires have suffered severe damage are just that: rumors. “But even if it’s a single tire in a single vehicle, that’s a problem,” he said.

So officials decided to temporarily lower the sharpened metal barriers Tuesday. The decision was made even before airmen conducted a series of tests to see if they could verify or rule out damage.

“They’re trying to determine: Are the shredders safe? And, if they are, we’ll have documented proof,” Chambers said.

But there are those on base who already have proof: damaged tires.

Senior Airman Jason David was producing a segment for American Forces Network television to promote the tire inspections when someone suggested he get his own vehicle inspected. He said he went, reluctantly. Inspectors discovered both front tires on his BMW had suffered major damage.

“From the outside looking at it, they look fine,” he said. But the tread on the tires showed puncture marks. “You can see where the spikes went into the tires.”

David was given a paper to take to the base’s legal office to file a claim.

Base officials said that several claims have been submitted but none has been resolved yet.

David said he has ordered tires online and is hopeful the military will pay to replace the damaged tires.

“I’m very happy with what the base is doing,” he said. “They could be just doing nothing about it.”

Chambers said inspectors are rating all the tires they see and telling those with severe damage to replace them immediately. He said tire damage not caused by the spikes also has been found repeatedly and those car owners also are told to get new tires.

The devices, commonly referred to as “tire shredders” on base, were installed after a team from the United States inspected the base in 2002, looking for the potential of terrorism. As a result, the exterior fencing surrounding the base was heavily reinforced with more metal, concrete and barbed wire.

Security at the gates also came under scrutiny, and the spikes were installed in the lanes designated for exiting traffic.

“In effect, if a bad guy drove up the wrong way, they could potentially gain access to the base,” Chambers said.

That hasn’t happened. But the devices have shown they work by stopping a few confused motorists flat in their tracks.

Chambers said he wasn’t aware of anyone driving over the spikes in the proper direction who had immediately suffered a flat tire. But he said the base had heard enough complaints to investigate potential long-term damage.

Military bases at Vicenza, Camp Darby, and Naples, Italy, don’t have the spikes at their base gates. Several major bases in Germany also don’t use the devices.

It’s thought that driving over the barriers at low speeds is safer. So Aviano has installed speed bumps right before the barriers and posted electronic signs telling drivers how fast they’re going while exiting the base. The preferred speed is 5 mph or under.

Chambers said officials are looking at three theories on how the barriers might be damaging tires:

Excessive speed. That might cause the car to rise higher off the road and land on the spikes. It also might be damaging the devices.

Traveling across the devices at an angle other than straight on. One device that was fitted on a curve has been moved.

Faulty spikes. The 31st Security Forces Squadron has been checking the spikes every day and reporting those not working properly to the 31st Civil Engineer Squadron to fix or replace.

Chambers said the base would release the number of tires found damaged after the inspection is finished in early February. If the spikes are found to be causing too much damage, they’ll be replaced by another model or removed.

“There are other ways to mitigate [gate security concerns],” he said. “And we’ll take a look at those.”

Inspection schedule

Aviano Air Base is conducting a free tire inspection for all POVs registered on base (not including government-owned vehicles).

The voluntary inspections, which take about 10 minutes, started Jan. 5. Inspections are from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Hangar 6 (next to outdoor recreation).

Appointments for plates ending in 1-5 were held earlier this month. Remaining dates are:

Jan. 20 — license plates with the last number ending in 6Jan. 21, 24 — license plates ending in 7Jan. 25, 26 — license plates ending in 8Jan. 27, 28 — license plates ending in 9Jan. 31 — license plates ending in 0Feb. 1, 2 — all personnel who missed earlier dates.—Kent Harris

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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