With new travel bans to Europe after Brussels, military leaders call for caution


Members of the public gather at Place de la Bourse in Brussels to leave messages and tributes following the terrorist attacks of Tuesday, March 22, 2016 (Gareth Fuller, PA Wire, Zuma Press / TNS)

STUTTGART, Germany – An indefinite travel ban in Brussels after Tuesday’s terror attacks reaches destinations in Turkey and other places where the military is banned from visiting as US military leaders seek to minimize exposure troops at the risk of attack.

The European Command issued the travel restriction to Brussels on Tuesday, hours after the terrorist attacks on Brussels airport and a metro train that killed more than 30 people and injured more than 200. Among the wounded was an officer from the air force, his wife and four children. Turkey has been hit by a series of deadly attacks in recent weeks.

Now, with the holiday weekend approaching, executives are urging staff to take extra precautions if they travel to Europe.

“The recent attacks that we have seen in Brussels and Turkey really show that we are facing a significant and persistent threat throughout the theater,” said Robert Balcerzak, deputy head of the US Army Europe counterterrorism, in a statement.

Ahead of the Easter break, USAREUR urges troops to research travel destinations and enroll in the State Department’s Safe Travelers Program, which connects tourists to the embassies of the countries they visit.

How to respond to a threat depends on the situation.

“In the case of an active shooter, the DOD insists on running, hiding and then fighting if necessary,” Balcerzak said.

In recent years in Europe, US forces have found themselves in the crosshairs of terrorists, such as the lone wolf attack in 2011 on a group of airmen at Frankfurt airport, which killed two soldiers. Last August, an aviator on leave traveling by train to Paris was credited with battling a gunman on the ground, preventing a potential full-scale attack.

For the military community, periodic travel restrictions have become more common in recent months. After the November terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, US military and civilian personnel were briefly banned from visiting the French capital.

But that does not prevent some families from pursuing their travel plans.

Mary Cheney, volunteer coordinator with Army Community Services in Wiesbaden, said she and her soldier husband had a “game plan” for their five children, ages 8 to 15. They plan to travel to the Netherlands for five days during the spring break.

The children “each have backpacks; they have phone numbers and they know who to talk to if something happens or if they go their separate ways, ”Cheney said. “We plan to be careful and make sure we are aware of our surroundings, but we are not going to let (what happened in Brussels) have an impact on us or our plans.”

“If we allow them (the terrorists) to intimidate us and change our lifestyles, then they win,” she said.

In Turkey, terrorist attacks have become almost routine in recent months, with high-profile attacks in Istanbul, Ankara and southern Turkey. In response, EUCOM maintained a travel restriction within the country, where visits require the approval of the General Officer.

Now, those wishing to visit Brussels must also go through their chain of command for a special exception.

“This EUCOM policy applies to military personnel, civilian DOD employees, contractors, dependents and family members sponsored by the command,” EUCOM said. The restrictions do not apply to servicemen assigned to diplomatic posts in Belgium.

Following the Brussels attacks, EUCOM chief General Philip Breedlove offered his condolences and support upon request.

“We will help Belgium in any way we can for our military – we strongly condemn these attacks and will continue to stand alongside our allies and NATO partners to defeat these terrorists who threaten our freedoms and our way of life,” did he declare.

Stars and Stripes reporter Dan Stoutamire contributed to this report.

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Jean Vandiver




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