U.S. Air Force, Navy restrict travel to London in wake of terror attacks
On the day after terrorists detonated four bombs in central London, U.S. military personnel were steering clear of the capital city, as much to stay out of the way of British authorities as for security reasons.
“We just don’t want to be in their way,” said Air Force 1st Lt. Glory Smith, a spokeswoman at RAF Mildenhall, England.
Both the Air Force and the Navy, the two services with the largest presence in the United Kingdom, have restricted travel to London in the wake of Thursday’s terrorist attacks that killed more than 50 people.
Additionally, both have increased their security posture. The Air Force elevated its threat condition level Thursday afternoon from Bravo to Charlie. According to the Homeland Security Web site, Bravo means there’s an increased and more predictable threat of terrorist activity. Charlie applies when an incident has occurred or information indicates that a terrorist action against personnel and facilities is imminent.
The Navy, which has the most personnel stationed in London, was more circumspect Friday, saying only that security has been increased due to the bombings.
Thursday’s attacks led the Navy to give most of its staff in London the day off, said John Szakas, the spokesman for Commander, U.S. Naval Activities, United Kingdom. Only “essential services” personnel were asked to report to work, meaning places such as the exchange, gymnasium and post office were closed.
“It’s not the kind [of three-day weekend] you want, that’s for sure,” Szakas said.
Szakas added that, at least for the time being, all temporary-duty travel to London has been suspended, barring permission from a flag officer.
Meanwhile, U.S. Air Forces in Europe announced Friday that all of its personnel assigned to the United Kingdom are accounted for. About 12,000 military members are part of the USAFE community in the United Kingdom.
The Navy made a similar announcement Thursday afternoon.
USAFE has ordered its personnel in the United Kingdom to refrain from traveling to London. That means a pair of ITT trips planned for this weekend for RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath personnel have been canceled, according to Capt. Jason McCree, an Air Force spokesman.
“We are taking prudent measures to ensure the security and safety of our airmen, civilians, their families and our resources,” McCree said.
Air Force personnel are allowed to travel to any of London’s airports, but movement inside the M-25 ring road for any other reason is prohibited.
That deflated numerous excursions into London, planned or otherwise.
“It’ll be hard to explain to the kids why we can’t go,” said Maj. Monica Wheaton, who works as a midwife at the hospital on Lakenheath.
Wheaton and several other parents had organized a Monday morning trip to London to see “The Wiggles,” a popular children’s ensemble.
“We’ve been planning this since March, when the tickets went on sale,” Wheaton said.
The group had chartered a bus through ITT (Information, Tickets and Travel) to take 19 children and 17 adults to the 11 a.m. show. The tickets roughly cost $20 apiece. Now, instead, they may take the children, ages 1-7, to the Bob Hope Center on RAF Mildenhall.
“Maybe,” said Wheaton, “we’ll be able to do our little party there.”