Interview by Stephen Baack, USAG Ansbach Public Affairs
ANSBACH, Germany (Dec. 9, 2015) – Recently the Public Affairs Office had the opportunity to sit down with Col. Christopher M. Benson, U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach commander, to discuss a subject that has been on the minds of community members and Army leaders alike throughout the past few weeks: the current security situation in Europe and in the USAG Ansbach footprint.
Q: What are you most concerned about as a commander right now?
A: Our focus right now is force protection, especially in light of the attacks in Paris and all the repercussions from those unfortunate events. From a personal security standpoint, we are very in tune to and focusing on the security environment to ensure that our community members are safe and that our force-protection and anti-terrorism program and measures are in place. We are also continually assessing and making adjustments to our force protections measures to ensure we are not too predictable.
There’s always a concern when you have open borders that among the masses of people coming into a country that some with bad intentions will get through. However, we have nothing from our various connections to suggest that anyone from this group of people are a threat to our community. Most of the incidents have been between themselves – such as domestic violence and simple assault – and some burglaries and thefts.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that we shouldn’t remain vigilant, but there’s no reason to be scared or fearful. People just need to maintain situational awareness – be observant and look for anything that seems suspicious – and if there is, then report it.
We have concerns, the German citizens have concerns, and the German government has concerns. There are concerns across the board for a lot of different reasons. I’m not going to get into the political aspect of it, but for our purposes, we are working very closely with the local, regional and state authorities to identify and assess the security situation. At this time, we see nothing to indicate that there’s anything to be fearful of in our area.
Q: Without going into too much detail, what can people expect to see as far as security measures?
A: Some of our force-protection measures are designed to be visible to adversaries, but I want to reiterate that there has been no credible evidence whatsoever of any attacks against U.S. installations, and in particular none against U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach. We’re trying to be proactive. Adversaries have a planning cycle, and usually they are looking at soft targets or the weakest link. Some of our measures are designed to be visible and to change in order to throw a wrench in their plans. So, we have various options that we can choose from. We have many in place and we have others that can be cued up as necessary. Some are random, others are more deliberate. We have various tools in the kitbag that we’re using.
Q: What about host-nation coordination?
A: In addition to our close coordination and relationships with our US intelligence and security counterparts, we work very closely with the Polizei, and our Host Nation and European Allies and partners. We continually communicate with U.S. Army Europe, Europe Region of Installation Management Command, and of course the local and state levels agencies here.
Q: Many may want to isolate themselves and remain inside the installation. What do you say about that?
A: One, if we isolate ourselves, the terrorists win. Two, isolating ourselves makes it very difficult to maintain relationships and to live your life as part of a free society. We’ve worked very hard over the last 70 years to foster our relationship with our host nation and the many wonderful citizens who live in our region. Force protection and security are enhanced by the network of relationships we maintain. Prior to 11 September 2001, our installations were virtually free and open. Then everything changed and we severely restricted access to our installations. That’s been difficult for the local population to accept because we’ve had these relationships for so many years. We restricted access for force protection and the security of U.S. personnel and facilities. I understand that; however, I’ve worked very hard over the last couple of years to try to improve access, to open our doors to more of our host nation population. Of course, our decisions must be based on the current situation and safety, intelligence and risk assessments. Our ability to modify and adjust our force protection and security measures are a vital component of our overall posture and ability to manage access.
Q: So, in one sense, added security measures can help enable access?
A: It can, but we have to be careful about how we manage access. It’s probably not in the best interest of our community members to have free and open access. It’d be great for the local population and our US members, but it might also be great for those individuals who want to do us harm. So, we have to temper that freedom and relationship-building with a prudent mindset toward security. By the same token, we don’t want to totally isolate ourselves from the local community. As a result, we’re balancing that, yet still trying to offer as many opportunities and the least cumbersome access as possible for our host-nation friends and allies to enhance our relationships and cultural experiences.
Q: What do you hope community members keep in mind as they think about security and force protection?
A: Well, due to the current state of the world’s security situation, I don’t know if it’s going to get any better. That’s not to be negative; it’s just the way our world is these days. So first and foremost, we must remain vigilant, take prudent measures to protect ourselves, and to report suspicious activity.
The best way that we can communicate with our community members is through a mass notification system. That way, we can get the word out quickly if or when there is an incident, an emergency, or for other important information, such as road or installation closures, that needs to be communicated. Our mass notification system is called AtHoc. I highly encourage our entire community to register with AtHoc so you can receive the most up-to-date command information. Through this notification system you can get quick information that’s accurate and straight from a trusted source, which is your garrison.
Q: Do you have anything to add?
A: We take security and force protection very seriously. We continually assess and train the various components of our emergency management and AT/FP programs. I appreciate the community’s patience and understanding as we execute training and exercises. Sometimes it’s an inconvenience, and sometimes it’s frustrating if roads are closed or gates are closed – but it’s for the benefit of the community as a whole. I’d rather be prepared than not, and these training exercises help us remain ready for emergencies. Thanks for your assistance, patience, and understanding, and I encourage you to be an active part of our force protection program by remaining vigilant, and reporting suspicious or illegal activity.