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167th Airlift Wing Establishes Domestic Military Customs Inspection Program

Staff Sgt. Patrick Ware, Tech Sgt. Ben Dillard, and Senior Airman Terry Whittington demonstrate procedures for handling regualted trash inside the designated regulated trash shed at the 167th Airlift Wing on April 1, 2011. The unit recently certified 18 Airmen to act as inspectors for the Domestic Military Customs Inspections Program.  (U.S. Air Force photo by MSgt Emily Beightol-Deyerle)

Staff Sgt. Patrick Ware, Tech Sgt. Ben Dillard, and Senior Airman Terry Whittington demonstrate procedures for handling regualted trash inside the designated regulated trash shed at the 167th Airlift Wing on April 1, 2011. The unit recently certified 18 Airmen to act as inspectors for the Domestic Military Customs Inspections Program. (U.S. Air Force photo by MSgt Emily Beightol-Deyerle)

Martinsburg, W.Va. -- Eighteen Airmen with the 167th Airlift Wing are now certified Military Customs Inspectors. Lt. Col. Richard F. Sutherland Jr. said establishing the Domestic Military Customs Inspection Program at the base has taken nearly two and a half years.
"The members of the Deployment and Distribution Flight and the Security Forces Squadron have taken this and developed a very comprehensive program to ensure we stay in compliance with all regulations," said Sutherland, commander of the Wing's Logistics Readiness Squadron.
Tech Sgt. Ben Dillard, a passenger Service Supervisor for the 167th Small Air Terminal, has been instrumental in putting the program together at the unit.
Dillard said the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd wanted the capabilities at Shepherd Field.
"Senator Byrd desired for us to be able to clear customs at the 167th Airlift Wing, adding value to the unit and possibly open the door for an inland port to be established to bring more business to the Panhandle," Dillard explained.
There are limits to the inspections the Military Customs Inspectors (MCIs) can perform. The MCIs are authorized to inspect flights originating from foreign lands as long as the flights are of a military nature and all crew and passengers are active military, Guard, or Reserve personnel. Civilians on board any military aircraft can only be cleared by Customs and Border Patrol agents.
Previously, flight s returning from overseas without cargo would be directed to a U.S. port of entry such as Bangor, Maine, or Dover, Delaware to clear customs. With the customs capabilities at the unit, these flights can fly directly into Martinsburg saving time and money.
Col. Richard M. Robichaud, commander of the 167th Airlift Wing's Operations Group, estimates that "this will shave at least three hours on a trip as well as save the taxpayers on average about $30,000 in flying hour costs."
According to the Customs and Border Patrol's official Web site, everyone who arrives at a U.S. port of entry must be inspected to keep illegal material from entering the U.S. while also facilitating the flow of legitimate travel and trade.
MCIs are the first individuals on the plane when it lands. The MCIs assume control of the crew and cargo until they have been cleared to re-enter the country. During the inspection, the MCIs ensure all custom's documentation is correct, all personal bags are inspected and crew members are in good health.
They also act as agriculture inspectors to prevent the introduction of foreign plant and animal diseases, parasites and other foreign pests into the country.
According to Dillard , "All trash that has come in contact with dairy, meats, or other overseas food products must be tightly sealed in a yellow leak proof bag."
He added that it is important for unit members to know that the yellow trash bags be used only for regulated trash.
Because most air bases are in close proximity to international airports there are very few units that detail their Airmen as MCIs. Many units' Small Air Terminal handle regulated garbage, but few handle the regulated garbage and perform customs inspections.
"The folks here have been very positive about taking on the additional responsibilities as always," said Sutherland.