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Air bases in Germany getting change of guard

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Senior Airman Sean Donovan of the 723rd Air Mobility Support Squadron directs traffic at the east gate to Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Donovan augments security forces, which pulls him away for his own job. But when German troops arrive to help at the base gates later this month, he may not have to pull gate guard duty again.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. John Lasky)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Senior Airman Sean Donovan of the 723rd Air Mobility Support Squadron directs traffic at the east gate to Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Donovan augments security forces, which pulls him away for his own job. But when German troops arrive to help at the base gates later this month, he may not have to pull gate guard duty again. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. John Lasky)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- German troops will start providing some security at three Air Force bases in Germany this month to help ease the workload on security forces there.

An historic memorandum of understanding signed Feb. 13 by U.S. and German military officials cleared the way for the unprecedented assistance, said Maj. J.C. Collins, a U.S. Air Forces in Europe security forces official here.

The pact allows Germans troops to replace Air Force gate guards at Ramstein, Rhein-Main and Spangdahlem air bases. It does not change established Air Force entry procedures.

Guards will direct traffic, issue visitor's passes and search cars and trucks entering the bases. They will not get involved with law enforcement.

"So they won't be pulling over any drivers for speeding," Collins said.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe and German Joint Support Command officials in Cologne started work on the support plan in January. The Germans agreed to provide troops depending on the force protection condition at the bases.

There are five threat conditions. They range from "normal" -- when there's a general threat of possible terrorist activity -- to "delta" -- when there has been a terrorist attack or one is likely.

Feb. 13 the three bases were at condition "bravo." That means a greater and more predictable threat of terrorist activity exists. In condition bravo, the three bases receive about 400 troops. Of those, more than half will go to Ramstein. The number of troops each base gets increases with each rise in the threat condition level, Collins said.

Collins, an Air Force cop for more than 20 years, said this support concept is a radical change.

"The thought of us turning over our installation entry control points to a host nation -- or anyone beyond our immediate control -- is a brand-new way of doing business," he said.

Troops, mostly from the German air force and army, start arriving at bases about Feb. 17. It will take about a week for them to learn the Air Force entry procedures, Collins said. But having the Germans at the gates will not cause a downgrade in security, Collins said.

"These are highly trained soldiers, skilled in basic infantry," he said. "They know how to protect an area."

German troops will control entry onto the three air bases and their seven satellite installations. At Ramstein alone, for example, that means relief at more than 20 gates. Many of those gates are open around the clock, seven days a week.

When there is a jump in the force protection posture, troops will also help guard base perimeters and restricted areas, Collins said. They will patrol wooded areas outside the bases.

"But they'll do roving foot patrols only as an antiterrorism force protection measure," he said.

Air Force security troops will benefit from the German aid. They will get a much-needed break from the 12- to 14-hour days they have worked since terrorists attacked the United States, he said.

Airman 1st Class Rachel Plumley, a security forces troop with Ramstein's 568th Security Forces Squadron, cannot wait for the Germans to start working the gates.

"This change is a good thing, one that we welcome," she said. "It'll sure take a lot of stress off our security forces."

Collins said Air Force security forces will benefit in other ways. Airmen can now transition into a better work schedule. That will help when they deploy to a forward base to provide security. And they can catch up on required training.

"Right now, we're bringing our troops in on their days off to do training," said Master Sgt. Richard Bruno, chief of the squadron's "A" flight. The change will stop that practice. "And it will give me more time to work with my people as individuals."

The German support will also free up most of the hundreds of airmen who work outside their jobs to augment the security forces, Collins said. They can go back to their normal jobs.

"Right now, we're depriving a lot of shops of people they need to get their jobs done," Plumley said. "This change relieves a lot of stress on them, too."

Collins said the German support is no stopgap measure. He expects the support to last at least two years, if not indefinitely. One more benefit: The Germans will foot the cost of the venture. They will pay for their lodging, food, transportation and fuel costs.

Master Sgt. Chuck Gardner, the Ramstein security forces squadron's operations superintendent, said the Air Force has a shortage of cops. The Germans understand that and want to help.

"The Germans are being very creative," Gardner said. "They're helping us and not going against their constitution at the same time. The way I see it, the Germans are doing all they can to help us in this war on terrorism."

There is more help in sight for Air Force security forces in Europe, Collins said.

Army National Guard troops will begin providing security support at the other major USAFE bases in late March, he said. Before arriving, they will go through training at Fort Dix, N.J. More than 300 soldiers -- the first from the Puerto Rico ANG -- will help in Europe.

They will be on guard at USAFE headquarters at Ramstein; Royal Air Force Lakenheath, RAF Mildenhall and RAF Molesworth in England; Aviano AB, Italy; and Incirlik AB, Turkey. Each base will still rely on its active duty forces to provide security at geographically separated units, like Moron Air Base, Spain, Collin said.

"We need this help right now," he said. "It'll free up a tremendous amount of our manpower."

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