BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – Customs agents assigned to the 415th Military Police Company dispose of personal property seized during customs clearance operations weekly here.
For many people departing theater, part of their re-deployment process includes getting cleared by customs agents. Most are cleared without any issues, but every day agents confiscate personal property due to improper paperwork, packaging or other prohibitions.
Once confiscated, the items must be disposed of in accordance with Army Regulation 195-5. The disposal process for metallic items includes being destroyed via oxyacetylene torches. The flame and ensuing sparks make for a brilliant show, but most of the destruction is avoidable if a little research and proper procedure is followed.
Processing through customs is comparable to checks conducted by the Transportation Security Administration at airports. Despite the subtle differences, the similarities include the confiscation of belongings if necessary. Before any items are confiscated, service members are given a brief that details prohibited and restricted items, procedures for being cleared, and they are allotted a ten-minute amnesty period to dispose of any non-clearable items before being processed.
“Most items that get seized by customs agents are usually due to individuals not following proper procedures or being unaware of which bag they have their knives or weapons magazines in,” said Sgt. Casey Schuetz, a customs agent assigned to the 415th MP Det.
To ensure personally purchased multi-tools, knives or other bladed instruments make it to their final destination, it may be placed in checked baggage. However, some items simply cannot be brought back regardless of which bag the item is in.
The prohibited items list includes martial arts weapons such as nunchucks and throwing stars. Customs personnel simply cannot allow those or similar weapons to make it into the U.S. Soldiers may check with customs prior to purchasing a weapon to ensure it was not acquired only to be left behind.
Money can be needlessly wasted on items other than weaponry as well.
“Service members need to be aware of the restrictions placed upon counterfeit items,” said Staff Sgt. Erik Haugen, a customs agent assigned to the 415th MP Det.
The fact that an item is sold in an on-post bazaar does not guarantee its clearance through customs.
Service members are allowed one of each like-counterfeit item. For example, one watch, one purse, one DVD, DVD set and one set of headphones. Any additional like items must be confiscated and eventually destroyed.
“The most commonly seized counterfeit items are Beats headphones and watches,” said Haugen.
Some items really shouldn’t need an explanation as to why they are considered prohibited, for example, the bottom half of a mortar round. Although some people might consider them interesting, some people would not seriously consider trying to bring these items through an airport in the U.S. without some serious repercussions; customs in Afghanistan is no different. Some war souvenirs are permissible. Expended demilitarized brass and very small pieces of shrapnel are examples. People simply need the proper paperwork with a customs clearance stamp, which can be obtained at a customs building.
If you speak to a customs agents they might tell you they don’t enjoy confiscating personal belongings because seized property equals unwanted paperwork. To ensure that your personal property is not subjected to 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit, people can reference Central Command Regulation 600-10 or speak with a customs agent.