Imagine yourself lying on a white, sandy beach in a tropical paradise where your every need is met. You finally got away from the unit for some rest and recuperation, and your unit is now a million miles away in your mind. A quaint shopping area is an easy stroll from your hotel; golf is only a short ride away by courtesy van. As you enjoy the sun warming your body, you watch skiers glide over the smooth surface of the bay. In the background you hear loud noises and wonder vaguely why the staff of your hotel cannot keep things more restful. Then you hear your cabin boy calling to you, "Mister Green, Mister Green! The People's Provisional Government wants all the guests to go into the hotel. Mister Green, please hurry!"
Turning casually, you see your cabin boy running toward you across the sand. Behind him is a group of armed paramilitary men. Your swimsuit, towel, and sunscreen are no match for them. Suddenly you wish you were back at Fort Boredom. You think, "What was it those security guys said during the Level 1 Antiterrorism Awareness briefing?"
Although this scenario is purely fiction, similar events could happen. Some countries are more peaceful than ours is today, with lower crime rates and smiling, fresh faces everywhere you go. Others appear peaceful, but it is a facade made possible by quickly cleaning up the carnage from the most recent military coup. How can you tell the difference? How do you know where travel is safe?
Your primary source of information on traveling abroad safely is the Level 1 Antiterrorism Awareness Training required by Department of Defense (DOD) Instruction 2000.16, DOD Antiterrorism Standards. This training is designed to remind you of basic operations security concepts. It gives you information about generally known threats around the globe and informs you of specific threats or concerns about the country to which you will be traveling. The training is required for all DOD military and civilian personnel before any official or unofficial travel outside the United States, its territories, or possessions and is valid for a period of 1 year. The training also is required for family members who are at least 14 years old when accompanying their sponsors on a permanent change of station (PCS) outside the United States or its territories. Whether the travel is for vacation, temporary duty (TDY), or PCS, there are unique facts you need to know about the country you will be visiting. This information changes frequently. For this reason, you are required to obtain area- or country-specific information within 3 months before you travel.
In today's world, many extremists view America as the primary enemy to their particular ideology. Americans are symbols of what they despise. As a military member, a military family member, or a Federal civilian employee, you are a larger symbol, and you are at greater risk than is the general American population.
The decision to have mandatory antiterrorism awareness briefings was not made lightly. Army leaders know the time it takes to prepare and present these briefings, and the associated costs to units. However, we live in a very dangerous world, and the safest way to deal with any danger is to be thoroughly informed. You cannot prepare for danger if you are not aware it exists. The Level 1 briefing makes you aware of the current known dangers.
You also can conduct research easily on your own to keep informed. Knowing what a country offers will allow you to get more out of the trip, whether it is for a vacation, TDY, or PCS. You certainly want to know what the country is like in general and the points of interest for the specific location you will be visiting. Learn both the good and the bad about the country.
The quickest, surest, and most timely information is located on the U.S. Department of State web site at http://www.state.gov. This site has a wealth of information you can use to plan any trip. It has information on how to request passports, visas, children's services, country background notes, and even employment information. The web site also has current highlights for the traveler.
The Department of State web site contains a wealth of
For information on a specific country you plan to visit, select "Travel Warnings" under "Travel and Living Abroad." This will take you to "Travel Warnings & Consular Information Sheets." In this section, you will find public announcements, and consular information sheets. To find the consular information sheet on the country you plan to visit, either select the first letter of that country or scroll further down the page for a list of all the countries covered on the site. Most countries are safe for military and other U.S. citizens to visit, but, if there is any indication of danger, the Department of State posts warnings at the beginning of the sheet. The information sheet gives a general description of the country, requirements for entry and departure, any special requirements for minors, firearms regulations, medical information, safety and security concerns, current crime information, criminal penalties for foreigners, road conditions, children's issues, and registration and embassy locations.
For example, if you selected Columbia as your destination, you would notice immediately the warning placed at the very beginning of the consular information sheet. The associated travel warning provides additional information that tells you of whom and what you need to be watchful while there.
The "Travel Warnings & Consular Information Sheets" page also has a link to the "Current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements" site that could affect your travel decisions. This site shows you at a glance all the countries that are dangerous for Americans to visit. The Department of State issues travel warnings for countries that it recommends Americans avoid and public announcements of short-term conditions that threaten Americans in a particular country. If your orders require you to go to one of those countries, you will know to be cautious. It also is advisable to use this source while planning a family vacation.
When being stationed outside the continental United States, it is prudent to look up all the countries that border the country in which you will be living. Even if your destination is safe, the countries around it may have unstable governments or other domestic problems that could spill over into the country in which you are living. If you live in the United States near the Mexican border, you should continuously review what is going on in Mexico. Insurgents who may be active along the border can quickly turn a pleasant day trip into a nightmare. By being aware of the names of extremist groups, the types of problems involved, and the government in charge, you will be better prepared for danger coming from those areas.
If you travel frequently, you can subscribe to Department of State updates that will inform you of various facts affecting your travel decisions, including warnings. You can subscribe to this on line at http://www.state.gov/www/listservs.html.
While traveling abroad, keep in mind that you are in a foreign country. No matter how well you try to blend in, you still will be recognized readily as a tourist, probably as an American, and likely as a military member. Even in many "safe" countries, there are those who see you as a symbol of what they view as a threat to their ideology. For this reason, you should always maintain a high level of vigilance. You also can reduce your vulnerability by keeping a low profile wherever you go and varying when you travel and what routes you take going to work or taking your children to school.
When you are in a foreign country, always treat mail and packages from unknown sources with caution. Avoid contact with any suspicious or unfamiliar objects you find in or near your residence or workplace. Whenever possible, leave your vehicle locked and secure.
None of this advice should cause you to become paranoid about your travel. Being cautious and aware of your surroundings will help keep you safe. Vigilance will enhance the pleasure of your travel experiences by making you more aware of the character and people of the country you are visiting. ALOG
Jeffrey L. Holmes, a logistics management specialist for the Readiness and Logistics Business Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, is the team leader for antiterrorism and force protection planning at Fort Sam Houston. He has a bachelor's degree from California State University at Long Beach and is a graduate of the Professional Military Comptroller School and the Army Sustaining Base Leadership and Management Course.