By Chelsea Bissell, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr Public Affairs September 24, 2012
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany --The tantalizing proximity of the Czech Republic combined with its distinctly foreign feel makes it a popular destination for Soldiers and family members looking for an easy excursion.
But, in the past few months, the garrison has seen an uptick in the number of community members caught crossing the Czech border without a passport. Roughly 20 people a month from U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr have been caught empty handed traveling between the two countries.
Under international trade agreements, all foreigners must carry a passport when crossing borders, even where no official border check exists. Those who don't often get detained, slapped with a fine and charged with illegal border crossing.
"This is an issue. It's really become a problem," said Capt. Matt Jeppson, chief of Military and Civil Law, Joint Multinational Training Command.
The recent increase in illegal border crossing charges for the military community stems partially from heightened security patrols around the Czech border due to a jump in crime. Mincer explained that law enforcement in Czech and Germany sometimes hover near their national border looking for foreign cars.
Unlike in the U.S., said Jeppson, the German authorities can pull over a car without probable cause. This means that cars can be stopped at random and searched for cigarettes, drugs, knock-off purses and individuals without passports.
Once German or Czech police catch passport violators, they take the offenders to the nearest federal police station where they are held until proof of identity is validated by the garrison.
"The big thing that can happen to you is that you can be held there until the German of Czech authority determines that the Army knows who you are," said Jeppson.
This process can take hours, he explained. The garrison can identify Soldiers fairly easily, but dependents, especially young children, can be harder to confirm. And for those detained at night or on a weekend, the wait can drag on.
Once identified, spouses and dependents are handed a 70-euro fine in Germany and a 500-krone (about $30) fine in the Czech Republic. When the fine is paid, no further action against them is taken.
Because, in most cases, the Army retains legal responsibility over their Soldiers, military members don't receive a fine for their illegal border crossing. Rather, the foreign authorities inform the legal office of the misconduct. The legal office then passes the information to the Soldier's commander.
"The Soldiers should get counseled, and then, at that point, it becomes a violation of an order," said Jeppson.
The ease of the open border and seamless entry into Czech give Americans the sense that they're not visiting a foreign country, said Mincer, adding that they often confuse proximity with freedom.
"I think a lot of it is ignorance, since Czech is so close," she said. "It's just sort of the blasé attitude that it's not a border. But it's a foreign country."