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Airmen prep Marines for CENTCOM customs mission

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- The 387th Air Expeditionary Squadron is preparing the Marine Corps' 2nd Law Enforcement Battalion to assume control of the U.S. Central Command's Customs mission here.

The 387th AES's mission includes inspecting Department of Defense personnel, vehicles and materials departing the CENTCOM area of responsibility destined for the U.S., during a seven month rotation. This mission will be handed over to the Marines of the 2nd LEB, assigned to Camp Lejeune, N.C., who trained with the 387th Airmen on U.S. Customs and Border Clearance procedures here.

"Any transiting DOD personnel, vehicles or cargo returning to the states must be in compliance with customs and border protection and U.S. Department of Agriculture standards," said Lt. Col. Dan Johnstone, the commander of the 387th AES. "Everything essentially must be cleared through us."

CENTCOM made the decision to rotate this mission throughout the service branches which is critical to the present transition taking place downrange. The switch between the Airmen and Marines of the 387th AES and 2nd LEB highlights the importance CENTCOM has placed on this customs mission.

"We are supporting the largest military transition operation since WWII," Johnstone said. "Customs as a whole is a critical enabler to a massive logistics operation, without a doubt."

Regulations and guidelines of the USDA and DOD are designed to prevent agricultural hazards such as dirt, seeds, spiders and insects from entering the states and international ports.

The inspectors look for everything in and on the tactical vehicles from live ammunition to lost cell phones, then they are stripped of extra equipment such as radios and seats then tagged with a bar code tracking system. Assuring vehicles meet the high standards; customs agents assigned to the decontamination wash rack ensure vehicles returning to the states are inspected at least three times. The inspection takes place prior to washing, during a quality check after the decontamination process and to conclude before they depart for the U.S., said Master Sgt. Jose Diaz, a 387th AES customs agent.

Also serving as a large part of the mission success are the gateway customs terminal operations agents, who handle inspections on the passenger side. Their primary mission is to verify all gear is cleared of prohibited items and passengers are not storing illegal objects. Once all inspections are complete, paperwork is signed and stamped with an official customs seal that certifies the item has been properly inspected.

For the past few weeks, the current 387th AES agents trained the incoming Marine unit to successfully assume responsibility for this mission.

Continuity at each work station and established people skills play a significant role in the Customs mission here, said Master Sgt. Tracey McDonald, a 387th AES gateway custom chief; especially in the transition from one service branch to the next.

"We can process upwards of 500 personnel in one day," McDonald said. "This unit was a well-oiled machine and from my observation, these sharp Marines will keep it thriving."

The 387th AES cleared more than 5,000 tactical vehicles, 5,500 shipping containers and nearly 19,000 personnel across the AOR in a six-and-a-half-month time frame. According to Johnstone, these are just a few highlights completed by this highly praised squadron heading out.

"We have reached the very end of our training here with the Air Force agents," said Cpl. Jason Pickard, a 2nd LEB customs agent. "We are eager to take over the mission here and surpass the rotations accomplishments, as awesome as they are."

The 2nd LEB assists in a variety of missions that include law enforcement, route regulation, humanitarian assistance, nonlethal weapons training, military working dog employment and now customs operations.

The official transfer of authority is scheduled for April.
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