By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Sept. 20, 2002) -- Nearly all of the military mail arriving from overseas is now being checked by U.S. Customs agents because of recent increases in contraband.
The Air Force's chief of postal policy said all packages coming from overseas locations are subject to inspections by customs agents, but recent discoveries have necessitated a closer look.
"U.S. Customs in Chicago started identifying nonmailable items coming through the mail from overseas post offices," Bob Eichholz said. "The more they found, the more they started keying in on Army and Air Force post offices in the contingency areas."
According to Eichholz, customs agents have found items that violate customs laws, postal regulations and military regulations.
"They have been finding things like rifles, bayonets and shell casings with the primer still in, which is still an explosive, even though it is small," Eichholz said. "Some of the other stuff they found could be in violation of standing orders at the originating locations, such as war trophies and souvenirs."
Continued use of the military postal service to transport dangerous or illegal items into the United States will result in an inconvenience for all that use the system, he said.
"We prefer to move mail along (by) the quickest means possible, but it could slow the mail down if misuse of the system got extreme," he said. "You could end up with further restrictions on mail -- sizewise or content."
The military uses a system of both military and commercial airlines to carry military mail back into the United States, he said, adding that commercial carriers are not willing to carry dangerous items.
"Commercial airlines have a requirement to provide safe flights to their passengers," he said. "So we have to police ourselves, to make sure our customers don't mail things that they aren't supposed to (mail). We don't want the Federal Aviation Administration or commercial carriers to start putting restrictions on our mail."
Eichholz said part of the problem may be that military members are not aware of the rules.
"When guys go out in support of the (air and space expeditionary force), they might not get much of a postal briefing until they get there," he said. "Then it depends on how in-depth it is. What we are trying to do is let people know at the major command level to let their people know before they go on deployment to check the postal bulletins and find out the 'dos and don'ts of the mail system."
Additionally, Eichholz said, knowing what paperwork to use can be key to ensuring items make it to their destination.
"I guess there is a market for antique weapons over there," Eichholz said. "Some of this stuff is mailable, but you have to have the right forms through the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Customs finds a lot of stuff that could be mailable, but it isn't accompanied by the right documents."