By Summer BarkleyJuly 24, 2014
BAGRAM AIRFIELD--Twelve Soldiers from 23rd Military Police Co. out of Fort Drum, New York, have completed approximately 1,500 customs clearance missions and inspected approximately 1,000 vehicles during their 270 day deployment that is nearing an end. Each inspection is completed by a three-Soldier team whose purpose is to ensure that agricultural threats and invasive species are not introduced into ecosystems in the United States. They are the last sets of eyes on equipment before it is transported to support U.S. Army mission requirements.
The three-Soldier teams inspect everything from the largest vehicles in the Army inventory and shipping containers down to personal items belonging to Soldiers who are redeploying. Some of their work is conducted in enclosed spaces such as the non-rolling stock warehouse at 3-401st Army Field Support Battalion's Redistribution Property Assistance Team area, but some is conducted outside in the elements at the retro-sort yard and staging areas around Bagram.
"Most of what we do is warehouse items and secondary to these items is vehicles," said Staff Sgt. Jason Scarlata, non-commissioned officer in charge, from Elmont, New York. "For every vehicle we complete, we do at least five containers."
In fact, a visit to the team's work area on July 22 found them inspecting non-rolling stock, also known as tri-walls and containers. Customs inspections on non-rolling stock begin with the items laid out near the shipping container. The inspector first looks inside the container or tri-wall for mud, dirt and dust, plant matter, animals and insects. Once the container is inspected, each item is then carefully inspected. When the items are cleared by the customs team, the inspector watches as contractors pack the items into the tri-wall or container. When the packing is complete, the customs inspector puts placards on the outside of the container and seals it with special numbered seals.
"Customs inspections are very important," said Sgt. Cory A. Burnley, a Bismarck, North Dakota native. "Dirt can introduce disease and allergens into the U.S."
Spc. Adeola J. Folami, a Brooklyn, New York native, said the team often finds birds, nests and eggs in equipment that has been outside for a while.
The strangest thing I found was a live fish," he added.
Folami explained that while stationed at Kandahar Air Base, he was inspecting a large container after heavy rain and flooding and found the live fish in mud inside the container.
Working inside a warehouse, Spc. Emily E. Chappell, an Elizabethtown, Kentucky native, was inspecting robotics while Folami was inspecting charger components for the robotics. Outside, Burnley was inspecting free-standing x-ray systems used to inspect protective plates in service members' 'battle rattle' or improved outer tactical vest.
After the inspections, the Soldiers complete the paperwork to create a customs clearance certification and log equipment serial numbers and the numbers on the seal used to secure containers and tri-walls
"Our job is to make sure equipment passes subsequent inspections," said Burnley. "It saves time, money and prevents items becoming 'frustrated' [waiting in a holding yard] or being sent back [to the point of origin]."
While they often see many of the same things, there are unique items they inspect occasionally that add a little something different to the day. Chappell said the most unique things she has inspected are the Persistent Threat Detection Systems but Burnley and Folami cast their vote for vehicle borne radiation detectors.
"From a Soldier's perspective, the best thing about this mission is that it allows you to see all aspects of the military and the equipment we use day-to-day, as well as some of the rarer items you would not normally get to see. How many Soldiers can say they were up close to the PTDS system? How many can say that they cleared Army and U.S. Marine special forces weapons at the SASC [small arms support center]?" said Scarlata. "Additionally, it also makes things very important at the team level. These three-Soldier teams that go on mission every day are self-sufficient and are able to accomplish their mission with little to no prompting from higher."
"The Soldiers may not always love their job on Customs, but they are dedicated to the mission and they take ownership in everything that they do on a daily basis. From day one to day 270, their standards have not changed in the slightest," said Scarlata. "I am fortunate to have had the pleasure to serve with such a professional group of Soldiers."
Housed on the battalion footprint, the 23rd MP Soldiers support 401st Army Field Support Brigade, 3-401st AFSBn and other units on Bagram. Their mission is critical to enabling equipment to be moved according to U.S. Army directives to support missions.
Editor's note: Some of the 23rd MP Soldiers were assigned to conduct ammo abatement inspections at the 3-401st Army Field Support Battalion's Logistics Task Force Bagram Redistribution Property Assistance Team area for about half of their deployment.