Marine Corps Finally Dumps Vehicle Decal Requirement

Marine checks ID at at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. (Photo: Cpl. Daniel Redding, U.S. Marines)
Marine checks ID at at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. (Photo: Cpl. Daniel Redding, U.S. Marines)

After years of consideration, the Marine Corps is joining the other military services in eliminating vehicle decals used to access bases.

The decals, which identify vehicles with access to military installations, were once used broadly throughout the Defense Department. But amid heightened security protocols, the stickers have become at best irrelevant and at worst a liability for troops and family members.

In an administrative message published Tuesday, Maj. Gen. James Laster, director of Marine Corps Staff, said the issue of vehicle decals would stop immediately. In their place, the message said, base commanders will order vehicle spot checks by law enforcement to ensure cars comply with registration requirements.

In light of 2015 policy updates requiring 100-percent ID card checks at all Marine Corps base gates, Laster said in the message, “vehicle decals no longer serve a useful purpose.”

The Marine Corps continued its use of vehicle decals years after the other services did away with them. The Air Force eliminated the decal requirement in 2007, and the Army and Navy followed suit in 2011.

In materials released in 2007 with its policy change, Air Force officials explained that the DD Form 2220 military decal system was costly and outdated, providing little information to security officials and potentially endangering Defense Department personnel by identifying them as potential targets of terror attacks.

"We've been putting our own personnel through a process that simply duplicates state and federal mandatory requirements," Col. William Sellers, the Air Force chief of force protection and operations for security forces, said in a news release at the time.

In June 2011, then-commandant Gen. James Amos granted the Marine Corps a waiver to continue using the decals even after the Navy removed the requirement in order to support “traffic management/enforcement efforts, vehicle registration requirements, and … Clean Air Act mandates,” according to the message.

But in late 2014, the Defense Department began to issue warnings to troops and military families about the threat of Islamic State attacks. The Pentagon's Force Protection Agency specifically advised personnel to get rid of “decals or identifiers from clothing and vehicles” that might indicate military affiliation. In light of these warnings, the prominently displayed decals appeared to constitute a liability.

“"I don't like being targeted and my husband is always on me about [operational security]," Marine spouse Kristine Schelhaas told Marine Corps Times in 2014. "… And yet we go and stick these symbols on our car."

The paper reported that the Corps was then in the early stages of changing its policy to get rid of the decals, though it wasn’t clear how long the process was expected to take.

While Marine officials have not announced the cost savings they expect to realize with the new policy, it could be significant. Navy officials told Navy Times getting rid of the decals saved the service $750,000 per year.

According to Tuesday’s message, bases will continue “in-depth” security practices utilizing a layered approach that includes traffic barriers, armed law enforcement officers, military working dogs, and spot checks of vehicles that appear suspicious.

“Additional layers of security inside the perimeter will continue, with a focus on random and fixed security measures and protection of critical assets and facilities,” the message added.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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