Security inspections essential in bringing home personnel, equipment

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  • By Airman 1st Class Nicholas Imperiale
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Editor's note: This is a part of the weekly submissions from the 823rd Security Forces Squadron, which is currently providing security at the Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.

When we first arrived at the Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, our responsibilities were to secure the airport and help restore it to operational status. This included training Haitian police and the airport security personnel.

As the weeks went by and the airport's operations became more efficient, our efforts gradually shifted toward focusing on redeployments.

In essence, we began to help process personnel and equipment quickly and efficiently to be returned to the United States or redeployed to another location.

After working various security posts for a few weeks, a few other Airmen and I were selected to be certified as military customs inspectors.

We attended a two-day certification course taught by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection to help facilitate the seemingly unending flow of personnel and equipment.

The job of the customs inspector is to ensure personnel aren't trying to bring unauthorized or potentially dangerous items back into the United States.

We inspected equipment such as vehicles and cargo containers for cleanliness and removed potentially dangerous agricultural items, such as dirt and grass, which could be harmful to our country's ecosystem.

Introducing exotic insects or plants to our country could infect citizens, agricultural products and other food sources.

Our efforts to inspect all military personnel who are leaving Haiti, provide federal customs agents the opportunity to perform the even more daunting task of inspecting the hundreds of United States-bound civilian personnel and imported products every day.

Our customs inspection capability makes the entire process faster, avoiding the time delay of waiting for the limited number of civilian customs personnel, who are also dealing with all the civilian passengers and cargo.

We process about 100 military personnel at a time during daily redeployments so that thousands of United States military forces can return home as quickly as possible.

Working hand-in-hand with aerial porters and U.S. Army transportation troops, we also provide a mobile inspection team to aid in the quick recovery of personnel and equipment from around the country, including multiple logistics support areas and special operations forces compounds.

Since we began conducting these inspections, we have out-processed more than 450 personnel, 500 bags and approximately 120 containers.

Before our customs mission is complete, we will have out-processed and inspected approximately 900 personnel, more than 1,000 bags and 350 containers.

The continuous flow of personnel and equipment makes the job pretty much a 24-hour operation, and the long, in-depth process of looking at each piece of equipment and each container makes our daily schedule a relatively hectic one.

We coordinate with Department of Defense, Transportation Command for customs operations so that we may continually inspect outgoing units from the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy and we can see the impact of our efforts at a strategic level.

We will remain vigilant in the inspection process and enforce the strict standards for Haiti departures to ensure the safety of the United States, military members and civilians alike.

The work, while relatively unpopular with some members interested in bringing home souvenirs, is rewarding.

We are here to ensure our country's safety, economic, agricultural future and most importantly, to ensure the safe return of our brothers and sisters in arms.