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Marine Corps weighs eliminating vehicle decals

November 21, 2014 (Photo Credit: Cpl. Daniel Redding, U.S. Marines)

Marine Corps officials are developing plans to eliminate the vehicle decals required to access bases and air stations.

The pending policy shift comes just weeks after the service issued a memo to personnel warning them and their families to take extra security precautions amid threats from the Islamic State group. It would allow thousands of Marines to remove the prominently displayed windshield stickers, which identify them as Defense Department employees or dependents.

"There hasn't been a decision made to drop the decals — it's being staffed now," said Rex Runyon, a spokesman for Marine Corps Installation Command at the Pentagon. "There's nothing really to talk about. There's a decision that's going to be made. All I can say is stay tuned."

Runyon did not provide a timeline for an announcement.

Once required on stateside bases across all services, the Defense Department sticker has become a thing of the past almost everywhere. The Air Force dropped it in 2007 with the Army following suit in 2011 and the Navy in 2013, though some individual commanders continue to require it.

But the Marine Corps asked for — and received — a waiver to continue registering personal vehicles and decals. To Marine spouses like Kristine Schellhaas, who oversees the popular family support website USMC Life, holding fast to the stickers contradicts recent calls to tighten personal security.

Officials are cautioning troops and their families to stay alert in unprotected venues, to be more careful of what they share via social media, and to report anything seemingly suspicious — no matter how minor.

The Pentagon issued a memo days earlier urging employees to, among other measures, downplay their affiliation with either the military or law enforcement. Concealing badges and vehicle decals in public were among the suggestions outlined in that guidance, which circulated after two deadly attacks on members of the Canadian military.

"I don't like being targeted and my husband is always on me about opsec," Schellhaas said, using the colloquial term for operational security. "… And yet we go and stick these symbols on our car."

When the Navy announced its decision to drop the decals last year, the Marine Corps was expected to figure out a plan to do the same, according to media reports at the time.

Schellhaas said she's not alone in hoping the Corps drops the decals. There's a "high level of concern" among friends and colleagues, she said.

"If they're changing their Facebook profile, they're not wanting to have things on the car as well," she said.

And while the Air Force, Army and Navy eliminated decals before the Islamic State became a household name, the desire to protect service members from being targeted by potential attackers played a role in those changes. Air Force officials even recommended airmen remove the decals as soon as the policy expired, as to lessen the risk of falling victim to a terrorist or criminal, according to a fact sheet published in 2007.

Doing so would "avoid advertising the driver's DoD affiliation while off-base, which could be of interest to potential terrorists, criminals, foreign intelligence operatives or other hostile agents," the document states.

There were reasons other than security, though. For one, the decals no longer granted motorists access to military installations. Since September 11, identification checks have been required to get on bases.

"Post-9/11, obviously things changed and they went to 100 percent ID checks. The stickers kind of became obsolete," said Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a Defense Department spokesman.

The 2007 Air Force fact sheet called the decals "an expensive duplication of state registration and licensing."

"The Air Force spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year just on procuring the decals — countless more money and time is spent on issuing them," it says. "All of our Security Forces units are able to verify vehicle ownership through the license plates and other means."

Navy officials likewise listed money as a reason for doing away with decals, telling Navy Times in 2013 that cutting the decals would save the department $750,000 annually.

If the Marine Corps elects to join the Army, Air Force and the rest of the Navy Department, it "will reflect what is in the best interests of the Marine Corps, its civilians, families and visitors to our installations," Runyon wrote via email.

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