Threat briefings promote safety for overseas travel

A 3rd Infantry Division Soldier gives a thumbs-up as he boards a plane to deploy to Afghanistan in August 2017.

FORT LEE, Va. – Providing important travel information to U.S. citizens and protecting them from harm is the purpose of a State Department website that all overseas travelers are advised to check out whether their trip is for official business or leisure.

The URL for the Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs International Travel website is travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel.html. Users can find fact sheets about the country they’re visiting, how to contact the closest American Embassy, what the crime and terrorist threat is, what areas to specifically avoid, and much more.

Other menu options and links on the website include:

  • Passport and visa information
  • Travel warnings and advisories for every country
  • Traveler’s checklist
  • Safety and security information
  • Making a plan in case something goes wrong
  • What U.S. embassies can and cannot do for you in an emergency
  • Why you should take part in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program

The Smart Traveler program is a free State Department service in which U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad can enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In return, they will receive important text or email updates about the safety conditions in the destination country so informed decisions about travel plans can be made. The connection also enables the embassy to contact the traveler for emergencies like natural disasters, civil unrest or family medical crisis.

The URL for the site is step.state.gov/step.

What if your travel plans include a cruise ship or a famous religious site visit? The State Department website offers tips in those areas as well as others such as LGBT and women travelers, those with disabilities and the elderly, travelers with firearms, and health insurance and medical care considerations.

Reference the latter topic, military-affiliated travelers should check out www.tricare-overseas.com. The TRICARE Overseas Program is the DOD’s health care system for active duty service members, their families and other eligible beneficiaries in geographical areas and waters outside of the U.S.  International SOS is proud to support the U.S. military and their families overseas, ensuring quality health care no matter here their work or travels take them.

The other critical resource for uniformed personnel, DA Civilians, military family members or affiliated contractors is the DOD Foreign Clearance Guide – www.fcg.pentagon.mil. It is the “bible” for all DOD travelers, whether for official or unofficial purposes.

Every antiterrorism officer, security manager, or supervisor uses this document and website to determine the specific requirements for Soldiers, DA Civilians or contractors traveling OCONUS.

Remember, the specific requirements for each DOD traveler depends on (1) the country of destination, (2) the reason for the travel (official or unofficial) (3) the level of risk in that area and (4) whether the individual is active duty military, a DA Civilian, a family member, a contractor or a National Guardsman or Reservist.

The DoD Foreign Clearance Guide is an Office of the Secretary of Defense requirement and applies to all military departments including: Reserve and National Guard components performing national missions and serving under Title 10 or Title 32 orders; the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Staff; the Geographical Combatant Commands; Defense Agencies and all DOD Field Activities.

Army Regulation 55–46, Travel Overseas, states“Travelers also will be briefed by their command or agency force protection officer per AR 525–13, concerning both the threat posed to their safety and the precautions that should be taken to minimize their vulnerability when traveling to or through countries that are listed as high physical threat countries in the latest DA Force Protection Travel Advisory message from DCS, G–3/5/7.”

It further states that, “Security managers and special security officers will provide a pre-travel security brief, per AR 381-12, if travelers will pass through countries whose interests are opposed to those of the United States and/or attend international professional meetings where representatives of countries having interests opposed to those of the United States will take part.

The Foreign Clearance Guide provides specifics as to whether the traveler needs to obtain theater clearance or country clearance prior to travel; where and how to submit the request; and if the traveler must take specialized training such as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape or Level I AT Awareness training.

It is important to note that if the traveler is required to submit either country or theater clearance via APACS, he/she must give the COCOM office processing the request at least 30 days to process or send along an explanation for the lateness by his/her supervisor.

As far as personal protective measures, the Army provides some very good advice in the online Level I Antiterrorism Awareness training that’s mandatory prior to all OCONUS travel. The training is available at jkodirect.jten.mil.

When required, or allowed, to travel into “high risk” areas, “delay travel” countries or even “deny travel” destinations, the command may deem it necessary to impose additional Traveler Force Protection Condition Measures such as using the buddy system, contacting the nearest U.S. security detachment every day, inspecting vehicles prior to using them, using counter-surveillance measures, or remaining on the nearest installation until the danger lessens. Also, the higher the threat, the higher the level of the approving officer must be. For example, it takes an O-6 to sign for travel to a “high risk” area and a flag officer to approval travel to a “restricted” area.

The DOD member’s role in this process is to ensure they advise their ATO, security manager and travel coordinator as soon as they can in the OCONUS travel planning process; be diligent in completing any required training; and follow further instructions to the letter in order to secure appropriate clearance.

Bon voyage. Remain vigilant and safely enjoy the time overseas.