Troops in Europe seen facing greater danger as war escalates
March 21, 2003
The threat of protests gone wrong, or even terrorist violence, is greater, U.S. European Command told its troops Thursday.
Protests were held outside military bases in Heidelberg, Germany, and Naples, Italy. An estimated 5,000 demonstrators, mostly students, gathered outside the gates of Campbell Barracks in Heidelberg, while about 50 union members rallied in front of the Navy’s Capodichino facility in Naples.
More protests are expected on Saturday in Germany, Italy and England, according to EUCOM. Some protesters are demanding to inspect U.S. bases for weapons of mass destruction.
The military warned of potential violence from Palestinian groups working abroad. Threats also loom in Izmir, Turkey, from Turks opposed to the war and their country’s hosting of American forces. The military fears the likelihood of violence will escalate as the war grows hotter.
“The basic guidance is, try to remain clear of the protest areas,” said Lt. Cmdr. Rick Haupt, spokesman for U.S. forces in Europe.
“Certainly, to this date, there’s been no reported violence at any of the demonstrations. But when you have a large group, it’s just a precautionary measure in case the demonstration takes a turn in the wrong direction.”
On most posts Thursday, American military bases remained free of any expectation of apocalypse. Security teams performed thorough checks of vehicles entering compounds, but once inside drivers found exchanges open as usual and schools alive with the chatter of children.
There was no change in the force protection level, which on Tuesday was raised from Bravo to Charlie.
Many bases have set up hot lines that community members can call to check on security levels or threats.
The military “doesn’t have one for the theater, but it’s usually inherent in the communities,” said Master Sgt. John Tommassi, another spokesman for U.S. forces in Europe. Those who don’t know whether a hot line exists at their station can call community centers.
“They usually work in concert with the public affairs to get those hot lines established,” Tommassi said.
Exchanges remained open during normal business hours. Jeanne McDonald, a spokeswoman for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, said that includes stores in Turkey. Navy Exchange locations in Italy similarly reported no closures.
School sports competitions remain canceled, though practices may still take place. Classes remain as scheduled and bus service should continue.
“As far as we know, everything will continue as normal, but [parents] should keep in touch with local commanders,” said Frank O’Gara, spokesman for Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe.
EUCOM did say that travel tours sponsored by the USO or local morale programs were off-limits to troops throughout Europe through Friday. But other than that, life during wartime looked a lot like life during peacetime on Thursday.
Capt. Kelly Cahalan, a spokeswoman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, said no exercises have been canceled and base security remains at the same level.
“We are always vigilant,” she said, adding that bases constantly re-evaluate security measures and conduct whatever operations they deem necessary.
Contributing to this report: Rick Emert in Bamberg, Germany, and Kent Harris in Aviano, Italy.