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Posted: 10/12/2004 1:23:44 PM EDT
October 18, 2004

460 reservists get call: They’ll inspect war gear

By Christopher Munsey
Times staff writer

The Naval Reserve will mobilize 460 drilling reservists this fall to handle a new mission in Iraq and Kuwait — inspecting all returning military equipment for disease-bearing dirt and smuggled contraband.

The customs inspection mission is a new one for the Reserve, and every reservist slated for mobilization will have to be trained first in the job, officials said.

Reservists working out of 31 Reserve centers nationwide will be called up, said Cmdr. Thomas Gresback, a spokesman for the Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Force.

Once mobilized, the reservists will get six weeks of training at the Cheatham Annex in Williamsburg, Va., before being sent overseas, Gresback said.

“Instead of taking the reservists to U.S. Customs, we’re going to bring the trainers to the reservists,” he said.

Besides customs training, reservists will focus on force protection skills, such as combat lifesaving and qualifying on M16 rifles, during those six weeks.

The mobilized sailors will take over the job from Air Force personnel who’ve performed the mission for the past year.

The job is necessary because every piece of equipment leaving with units rotating out of Iraq and Kuwait — everything from Abrams tanks to tow trucks — is washed with high-pressure water hoses on wash racks at different staging areas.

The goal is making sure that mud, dust and dirt-bearing foreign pests and bacteria are washed clear before the equipment is moved out of theater at ports such as Ash Shuaybah in Kuwait.

Cleaning the equipment keeps pests from being introduced into the United States and possibly harming agriculture.

Inspectors also check the washed vehicles for contraband, looking for things such as weapons and souvenirs stashed by military personnel.

Given that it’s not a role they specifically trained for, learning the customs inspection job and deploying to Kuwait and Iraq will require some flexibility by the reservists, Gresback said.

“Based on our experience with reservists so far, we feel very confident that they’ll not only meet the mission, but exceed it,” he said.

Since many of the reservists have not worked together, building unit cohesion is also a concern, Gresback said.

“That’s what we’re hoping to do in Williamsburg,” he said.

Earlier this summer, Navy leadership tasked NAVELSF with overseeing the training and deployment of the customs inspectors because of its performance in Kuwait and Iraq this year, Gresback said.

Currently, about 485 reservists from NAVELSF Forward Group Bravo are deployed in the two countries.

Reservists drawn from three Naval Cargo Handling Battalions and a Supply Support Battalion help load and unload ships at Ash Shuaybah, run post offices, operate fuel depots and track air cargo.

The first group of 500 reservists, NAVELSF Forward Group Alpha, returned in early September.

Reservists are scheduled to report to their Reserve centers on or about Nov. 30. They’ll be mobilized for at least a year, and deployed for up to eight months. A second group will follow in late 2005.
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