By Mr. Stefan Alford (IMCOM)November 12, 2019
RHINE ORDNANCE BARRACKS, Germany -- A group of Kaiserslautern club owners met here with Army and Air Force leaders and military police representatives Oct. 30 to discuss ways to reduce drinking-related incidents downtown on the weekends with a focus on Soldier and Airman safety.
U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz Commander Col. Jason Edwards initiated the meeting following a late-night foot patrol he did with military police recently to better understand the issues associated with U.S. service members partying in the city's clubs and bars.
"It would be inaccurate to just assume that the clubs or club owners are the problem," Edwards told the group. "There's a need for us to address the conduct of our military members downtown. We don't want our people causing problems."
"We are responsible for the conduct of our Airmen and Soldiers, as well as their family members in the area," agreed Col. Robert Thompson, 86th Mission Support Group Commander, who participated in the discussion with Maj. Tyler Hughes, 569th U.S. Forces Police Squadron Commander.
To that end, Edwards and Thompson agreed with club owners that a larger U.S. forces security presence at night on the weekends could be one step in alleviating some of the concerns, to include more leader foot patrols with captains and first sergeants accompanying military police.
As a deterrent, something the club owners felt would also make a difference in reducing incidents is for the U.S. military to better emphasize the consequences to service members on their careers when getting in trouble.
"We do take this very seriously and there are severe repercussions," Edwards assured them. As an example, court-martial charges were recently referred against a staff sergeant for assault consummated by battery and drunk and disorderly conduct, arising out of a fight between two service members in the parking lot of a Kaiserslautern club.
In addition, in the past 60 days, the Army has issued seven General Officer Memorandums of Record (a reprimand placed in a Soldier's personnel file that could adversely affect chances of promotion and re-enlistment) for club-related incidents in the Kaiserslautern, Landstuhl and Baumholder areas. These included driving under the influence after being stopped by German police and traffic accidents after leaving clubs.
Talking about the late-night club issues with senior military leaders and exploring options to improve the culture was cited as a positive first step to show both sides are working together to reduce situations that could escalate to police response, said Athanasios Messiouris of the New Flash. He added it would also be a good idea to "display our cooperation with the military through signs or posters at the club entrance to show partnership for safety."
All of the club owners have the direct phone numbers to the 569th USFP and lauded the quick response from the U.S. police patrols already in the area when they've had to call.
Edwards also praised some of the efforts club owners have been making to help curb altercations.
"The clubs have been doing a lot to help people reduce poor decisions," he said. "Bartenders know when to cut people off and are enforcing that more, club staff talk to folks leaving to get a sense (of their sobriety), and the bouncers move people away to keep (from congregating) and inviting confrontations. We're working together to create a safer environment with less problems."
As far as incidents occurring in or near the clubs, Thorsten Laub, owner of four establishments including the Markthalle, said "The biggest problem is that most Soldiers are already heavily intoxicated when they show up. They drink at the bars first and then come to the clubs. Unfortunately, we (the clubs) show up in your police blotters because then they get in trouble here, but the problem originates in the smaller bars where they start drinking."
Although most of the clubs are open until 4 or 5 a.m. on the weekends, Laub said they turn away "almost half the people that show up after 2 a.m." because the level of intoxication. "We've put signs up saying they can't come in if they have (clearly drank too much) and we've created a bigger security zone out front to keep them from (loitering in) the area and possibly causing problems."
The other club owners added they have the same policy to try and reduce alcohol-related incidents. All of the concerns, the owners stressed, are not confined to Americans, but just as applicable to German party-goers and young people from any of the other nationalities that frequent the club scene.
They agreed that the biggest age group of concern is between 18-25, and gender was not an issue as men and women equally exhibited poor behavior as a result of too much alcohol.
"We need to focus more at all levels of leadership on the education process, what the rules are, and to get to an end state of having a good time with dignity," said Edwards.
"For some of our younger Airmen, this is their first time away from home and they don't have a lot of experience with this," added Thompson. "We need to help reinforce proper behaviors."
"We really find that most of the clubs and their staff are watching out for our people to try to minimize incidents and keep them safe," said Edwards. "Unfortunately, recent trends show that our own service members are not watching out for each other as well as they should, and are sometimes leaving people behind who aren't in the best of shape to find their way back alone. In a 'battle-buddy' culture, that's just unacceptable.
"If you go to the club as a team, come back as a team," Edwards added. "A Soldier or Airman being left by a member of their service, especially while intoxicated, alone, downtown without support is one of the key reasons issues occur. The ability to make good decisions is greatly diminished - just be a good teammate and get our service members back to a safe location.
"This partnership matters to be a good neighbor," Edwards told the owners in closing. "I've learned a lot through this open discussion and I'm grateful for you taking the time to come here and provide your inputs. We look forward to finding ways together to make things better for everyone."