By Ms. Ashley E Braun (IMCOM)November 1, 2010
When Soldiers and their families are stationed overseas, the ease and availability of exotic travel locales abound. Egypt, Russia and Turkey are all only a few hours flight from Germany. As block leave for redeploying Soldiers and the holiday season approach, Department of Defense personnel should be aware of requirements.
In spite of the proximity of many foreign countries available to those living in Europe, the security levels and safety advisories for some require advance planning. Approved leave documents for Soldiers, family members and civilian employees can at times take more than 30 days to process or be denied based on security or threat levels.
Security Officer Tonya Heinbaugh, of Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security at U.S. Army Garrison Bamberg said travelers need to be aware of not only Department of Defense requirements, but updates issued by the U.S. Department of State.
"The DoD Foreign Clearance Guide is the website first and foremost that Soldiers and DOD civilians need to reference when they are planning any trip outside of Germany or the U.S.," Heinbaugh said. "Sometimes there are requirements that must be met before traveling to a specific country. Some countries require country or theater clearances which could take up to 30 days or more."
To see specific country requirements for official or unofficial travel visit https://www.fcg.pentagon.mil/.
Even some tropical destinations require detailed paperwork for approved travel.
"If an active-duty Soldier wants to go to Aruba for vacation and he or she is not traveling as part of a cruise, that Soldier must request and be granted a Theater Clearance from HQ USSOUTHCOM J3 MIAMI FL," Heinbaugh said. "You cannot assume a Theater Clearance. Disapproval or absence of approval by any clearance-granting authority constitutes denial of authority to enter that MACOM's area of responsibility. In the case of Aruba, no traveler can enter any country in the US-SOUTHCOM AOR without all required clearances."
Warner Barracks Deputy to the Garrison Commander Dwane Watsek came up against some challenges when preparing for a trip to Israel with his family last year.
"I was aware that Israel would be special just due to the terrorism that sporadically occurs there," Watsek said. "I was not aware that I'd need State Department and General Officer Senior Mission Commander approval."
Sometimes, upheaval within a country such as strikes or protests can prompt the State Department to implement further requirements, so it is recommended that travelers check on future destinations regularly.
"In addition to the possible country/theater clearance, if the State Department has issued a travel warning or the country does not have a U.S. Embassy or consulate, there is also the additional requirement of obtaining GOSMC approval before they are allowed to travel to that country," Heinbaugh said. "This paperwork also needs to be submitted at least 30 days prior to my office."
Although familiar with the government websites explaining paperwork procedures, Watsek recommends that travelers utilize the knowledgeable security staff at the garrison to ensure they are on the right track.
The online information isn't always easy to understand, Watsek said, but DPTMS personnel were extremely dedicated in helping get all of the approvals necessary.
For more information and a travel checklist, visit Bamberg's DPTMS website at http://www.bamberg.army.mil/directorates/dptms/at/travel/travel.asp
"Anytime a Soldier is traveling abroad unofficially, the unit command needs to know and give their approval before that Soldier travels," Heinbaugh said. "If the DOD FCG had been referenced, and there is no country/theater/specific area clearance that is needed and no GOSMC approval needed, then the unit just make sure the Soldier has registered with the Embassy and received a travel brief from the command."
Typically a unit's S2 conducts this briefing.
Though the paperwork may take some time, travelers should not be dissuaded from visiting countries with minor security threat levels.
"I never felt threatened in Israel or Greece despite elevated threat concerns," Watsek said. "You should be aware of the security situation and ensure that you account for these challenges."