US military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported on Thursday that troops in Europe had been ordered “to the maximum extent possible” to refrain from wearing their uniforms off-base, even during daily commutes, in a bid to make them less conspicuous to would-be attackers.
“The directive specifically forbids the wear of uniforms for travel between duty and domicile, short convenience stops, conduct of physical fitness, travel between installations, and off-post messing,” the US European Command (EUCOM) has told personnel, according to the paper.
The announcement comes three weeks after two US airmen were killed and two other men seriously wounded in a shooting attack on an American military bus at Frankfurt airport. A 21-year-old Muslim man of Kosovar background, Arid Uka, was arrested for the attack.
It also comes as the US takes part in air attacks on Libyan targets in an effort to stop dictator Muammar Qaddafi bombing rebels and civilians. That operation is being run by US Africa Command headquarters in Stuttgart.
The order reflects the concern that military commanders hold about potential terrorist attacks on troops, many of whom wear their uniforms while grabbing lunch at local restaurants and running errands.
“You are not supposed to wear your uniform even if you are in your own car,” EUCOM spokesman Captain Ed Buclatin told the paper.
However, some questions have been raised as the effectiveness of the order, given military personnel are easy to spot whether or not they are in uniform.
“I don’t think it makes a lot of difference when I am driving my Xterra (SUV) through town,” Lt. Cmdr. Geoff Maasberg told Stars and Stripes.
“People know who all the Americans are from our haircuts and that kind of stuff, but I don’t think there is a better way to do it. I think the higher-ups are doing what they need to do, and what they think is right to help us not get shot by some crazy guy with a gun.”
Gunnery Sgt. Dennis Dougherty told the paper that having to change clothes back and forth “may be extreme,” but the directive nevertheless made sense.
“I have always thought, ‘What is stopping somebody from attacking (US service personnel) or pulling over a little bit and running them over?’ ”