CAMP RED CLOUD -- Postal customers wanting to send parcels from overseas military post offices starting this fall will no longer be allowed to submit handwritten customs forms and instead will have to do the forms online.
The change starts October 1 and applies to all customers using post offices on U.S. military installations in the Pacific and Europe, said Matthew J. Lewis, the Camp Casey postmaster.
In Korea, the change will affect about 43,000 military customers, including service members, Defense Department civilians, family members and contractors, according to Postal Management Division Korea, Lewis said.
The change comes as U.S. Customs and Border Protection looks to further tighten screening of items entering the United States, he said.
"USPS is being directed by Customs and the worldwide airline industry to make sure that this stuff is cleared before it gets on the plane -- electronically," said Lewis. "Everything has to be cleared before it gets to the airport.
The USPS and the Military Postal Service "worked this solution to the requirement to have all items going onto a plane pre-screened," said Lewis. The Military Postal Service is an extension of USPS and provides mail services to Defense Department personnel overseas.
Under the new system, once customers fill out the form online, the USPS computer system will sift the entries for "red flags," Lewis said.
If for instance a customer lists among the contents such banned items as perfume or an aerosol spray can, the computer system will block shipment and the post office staff will not transport it to the airport. Instead, they'll try to contact the customer so the banned item can be removed, he said.
But if the parcel is cleared, the computer system will display a green check mark, which allows the post office to move it to the airport.
Besides use of the online forms, authorities will continue the existing practice of X-raying all cargo before putting it aboard a plane, Lewis said.
"All cargoes are X-rayed, not just the mail," he said.
Customers can fill out the customs forms from whatever computer is available to them, be it at home or elsewhere.
It's recommended that customers complete the online form and print a hard copy before coming to the post office, Lewis said.
But computers and printers will be installed at Area I post offices by October 1 so that customers can do the online forms there if they choose, said Bud Rader, who heads the U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud and Area I's Directorate of Human Resources.
The post offices are on Camp Casey in Dongducheon and Camp Red Cloud and Camp Stanley, both in Uijeongbu.
Once the online customs form is completed, the customer gives the parcel and a hard copy printout of the form to the postal clerk.
"As long as they have a computer with a printer they should be good to go," Lewis said. "The requirement is that we still have to attach a hard copy to the package when we take it, so we do need a printout.
"When the customer hands the parcel to the clerk, the clerk will look at the form to see if we detect anything that stands out," he said. "If we don't detect anything, at that time we will process the parcel, put the postage on it, the stickers."
It's then sent to another part of the post office where mail is bagged or otherwise readied for shipment. A clerk with a hand-held scanner scans the barcode on the customs form.
A computer screen will then display either a green check mark if the item cleared for shipment or a small red symbol meaning it's not cleared.
"If after a couple of hours we can't get that green check mark that this thing is cleared, the new have to look into why," said Lewis.
Lewis said he hopes customers will "bear with us and be patient. It's a new thing for everybody. There may be some growing pains with it until we get the wrinkles smoothed out."
Military customers can get more information by contacting the post offices on their local installations, Lewis said. Phone numbers for Area I post offices are as follows: Camp Casey: 730-4764; Camp Red Cloud: 732-6213; Camp Stanley 732-5409.