Germans Oppose Growth of U.S. Air Base
Dec. 14, 2002
SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany (AP) _ Germans living on the edge of expanding U.S. air bases in Germany are sharpening their opposition to the threat of war against Iraq as they protest the already unpopular growth of the bases.
Hans Gunther Schneider, who can watch F-16 fighter and A-10 attack jets take off and land at Spangdahlem Air Base from the kitchen window of his home in Binsfeld, has spent several years fighting an expansion of the base planned to compensate for the loss of landing strips at Rhein-Main Air Base, scheduled to close in 2005.
The threat of a U.S.-led war against Iraq _ which would involve American bases in Germany _ has recently attracted supporters to his cause in droves.
``In the past few weeks, it's almost become a full-time job,'' says Schneider, in his den surrounded by maps of the expansion project and stacks of opposition letters and articles.
On Saturday, protesters rallied at the Spangdahlem, Ramstein and Rhein-Main bases urging Berlin to maintain a hard line against Washington's war plans, including prohibiting the use of German air space and U.S. bases here.
More than 100 people joined Schneider on a frosty march to a ``peace tree'' planted near the perimeter of the Spangdahlem base. Another 450 marched to the gates of the Rhein-Main base with banners including ``War is Terror'' and ``No War for Oil.''
The protests have not yet reached the level of violent demonstrations in the 1980s to demand that the United States remove Pershing II and cruise missiles from its bases in Germany, but the opposition is growing.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder sharply opposed a war on Iraq during his successful re-election campaign in September, angering the U.S. administration. He has since softened his tone, assuring Washington last month that Germany would allow unrestricted overflights and use of U.S. bases in case of a war with Iraq.
Health and safety concerns about noise and air emissions from the bases have hardened the anti-war feeling in Binsfeld, a town of 1,300 people just south of Spangdahlem Air Base, near Germany's western border with Luxembourg
U.S. and German authorities say emissions from the bases meet safety standards, but Schneider says the findings were based on peacetime measurements and do not account for increases in air traffic during a war.
The expansion project for Spangdahlem and Ramstein was launched in 1999 when Germany and the U.S. military agreed to close Rhein-Main as part of the post-Cold War drawdown, giving the adjacent Frankfurt international airport more room to grow.
Both bases will take on roughly 200 additional military personnel and their families, as well as additional C-5 and C-17 transport jets, which are heavy and require longer runways than are currently available at Spangdahlem.
As headquarters for the U.S. Air Force in Europe, Ramstein is home to about 20,000 troops and their families and already large enough to absorb both the additional personnel and transport planes.
In Spangdahlem, however, the runway needs to be extended and reinforced to receive the heavier planes and create more parking spaces for them. When the expansion is finished, the town's pre- and elementary schools will lie barely 500 yards from the base's southern perimeter and just beyond the airfield.
Already school functions are plagued by the earsplitting roar of jet engines _ Schneider's wife, Hannah said her daughter's first day of school ceremonies were drowned out by a training session.
``Some children still put their hands over their ears,'' she said. ``Even though they've grown up with the noise, it's unbearable.''