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SFOR Customs: delivering the goods

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.
Though 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 PXs).
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.
Busy office
With 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 job."
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 a problem.
"It can affect logistics at any camp," he said. "If those trucks carrying food or equipment don't get to camp, there's a problem."
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.
Along 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 at Work