By Ms J. Elise Vanpool (AMC)April 12, 2012
"When the Army called, we answered," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Trini Castro.
Castro, along with approximately 20 members of a U.S. Navy customs team from Kuwait, are now assisting the 401st Army Field Support Brigade in their retrograde mission. The sailors who serve as customs agents help ensure that the vehicles are ready for shipment back to the United States.
"Our mission is to stay here as long as the Army needs us," said Senior Chief Petty Officer John Matuza, who is attached to the Army Field Support Battalion-Kandahar. "We basically make sure everything is good to go back to the United States."
The team ensures that vehicles that have been in theater for years are free of contaminates such as biological hazards, ammunition, bird nests, moths and larvae. They also provide training to the workers who clean the vehicles showing them the places most often missed.
The process to clear vehicles for shipment back to the States starts long before it gets custom's cleared. First, the unit who had the vehicle cleans it and ensures that it is free of any biological material and ammunition. After determining there is no longer a use for the vehicle in theater, it is turned into a redistribution property assistance team yard. At the RPAT yard, it is thoroughly cleaned and processed.
During the final stages, the vehicles are inspected by the Navy customs agents to ensure the vehicles are totally clean before they are shipped back to the States.
"We are the last stop," said Matuza. "When it departs Afghanistan, it's completely clear of anything that might harm the United States."
To meet President Obama's goal of bringing home combat forces from Afghanistan by 2014, the Army has already begun to remove excess equipment from the country.
"The Navy Customs Team has been an invaluable resource and has helped to ensure that the battalion met its retrograde goals during the past two months," said Lt. Col. Nathan Acree, Support Operations Officer for the AFSBn-Kandahar. "We have learned a lot from them and as a result, we are better prepared to meet the demanding future requirements of retrograde."
Before coming to theater, the sailors went through a five week training course back in the States. Additional training was provided in Kuwait.
For many on the team, this is the first experience doing a joint mission.
"At first it was [challenging], learning their lingo [and] how they do business," said Castro.
"It's nice to interact with another branch of service," said Petty Officer 1st Class Edward Yoshikawa. "A lot of people don't get that opportunity, to interact with another branch of service in their career."
Many of the sailors were also glad to be helping another service.
"Coming back here was a priority," said Matuza, "to do something to help [the Army] because they are doing multiple missions, going outside the wire all the time."