By Sgt. Peter Fitzgerald
First published in
SFOR Informer#125, October 31, 2001
While nothing can take the place of a home-cooked
meal, being on an operational tour doesn't necessarily mean being
without some of the comforts of home. Thanks to the help of SFOR
Customs, familiar goods from SFOR nations make their way into
the operational theatre every day.
Zagreb - The French need their LU biscuits, the
British want their Cadbury chocolates and the Americans can't
do without their OREO cookies. Fortunately, troops can find many
items from home on SFOR installations throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina
(BiH). Making sure those items get to the troops is the responsibility
of SFOR Customs.
"Our goal is to take care of soldiers first, to make sure
they get as much logistical support in country as possible,"
said U.S. Lt. Col. David Boddington, SFOR Customs chief.
located in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, SFOR Customs has a
theatre-wide reach. It is responsible for ensuring the freedom
movement of SFOR goods, equipment and food through 48 border points,
to all the installations and to the more than 50 camp stores (or
The office serves as the theatre-wide customs policy and co-ordination
centre and is the focal point for customs negotiations with theatre
countries (Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and BiH). Zagreb is ideally
situated for this because of its central location, its proximity
to border points and its ease of access to major roads, said Boddington.
"It's geographically important to be close to where most
of the logistics are coming into the country," he said.
SFOR goods come into BiH primarily by truck or by train. Last
year some 22,000 trucks delivered goods in support of SFOR. Each
shipment is required to have to the proper paperwork to allow
duty-free status for SFOR import-export goods. SFOR Customs runs
a 24-hour notification system with Croatian and BiH customs to
ensure freedom of movement. Those delivering goods must notify
SFOR Customs a day in advance and they co-ordinate with officials
at the border points.
nearly 1,800 trucks and some 30 trains delivering goods every
month, paperwork builds up fast at the customs office. Last month
they received 7,646 faxes and fielded 1,160 telephone calls.
"We're quite busy," Boddington said. "It's a small
office with a huge responsibility and the staff does an outstanding
Nina Sudovic, SFOR Customs deputy, said the key is staying organised.
"You have to have a good system," she said. "If
you lose some paperwork you can stop a truck."
Boddington said that any time a delivery is stopped it can create
"It can affect logistics at any camp," he said. "If
those trucks carrying food or equipment don't get to camp, there's
On any given day three to six trucks may get stopped. Most of
these incidents, however, are minor and usually involve clerical
errors. Often, they can be resolved with a phone call. Despite
the immense volume, the office records nearly a 99 percent reconciliation
with the movement of goods.
"We have a good working relationship with the border authorities,"
said British Capt. Richard Stephen, chief of customs compliance
for the office.
with making sure SFOR goods are delivered, the customs office
also performs compliance checks on a routine basis. A compliance
team travels and inspects SFOR warehouses and PXs all over the
theatre. They ensure stores are controlling the sale of tobacco,
alcohol and electronic products through ration cards.
"Our goal is to make sure goods don't find their way into
the local economy and hurt it," said British Sgt. Reg Owen,
a compliance team member.
While some take advantage of the system, Owen said he's had good
co-operation from stores in trying to prevent abuse.
"Once all that work's done to get the goods into the country,
we just don't want to see the system abused," he said.
The customs team would rather just take satisfaction in their
role of making sure goods get delivered to the troops.
"In four tours here, this is the most rewarding job I've
had," Stephen said. "We're responsible for making sure
our guys get the nice things that make them feel at home,"
And LU biscuits, Cadbury chocolates and OREO cookies help a little
to do just that.
Related link: SFOR