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Reservists refine U.S. customs process

446th AW Reservists streamline process to get people home faster

Air Force Staff Sgt. Jacob Byers and Navy 2nd Class Petty Officer Chandra Merritt check through a servicemember’s luggage as part of the customs process recently at a location in Southwest Asia. /Senior Airman Cynthia Spalding

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(446th AW PA) - Two 446th Logistics Readiness Flight logistics planners helped streamline a nail-biting redeployment process that previously took 14-hours to complete, whittling the waiting period down to as little as six hours.

The Reservists accomplished the task of getting people home as part of the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron from Kuwait.

Master Sgt. Tim Stidhams said military members complained about the 14-hour process they endured from the time they reported at the passenger terminal at Kuwait International Airport, Kuwait, to when they boarded the aircraft to return home.

"Civilians have to wait just two hours before their plane departs," said Stidhams, a civil servant with the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Defense Logistics Agency. "How would you feel if you had to check in and wait for almost 14 hours?"

The Puyallup resident said to understand passengers' frustrations and locate the flaws in the old system, he and the 386th ELRS team, including Staff Sgt. Patrick Whitney, a fellow logistics planner with the 446th LRF and Capt. Thomas Smith, 386th ELRS installation deployment officer, had to find a way to cut down the process so redeployers were not subjected to lockdown any longer than necessary. Lockdown involves housing servicemembers in a separate waiting area after clearing customs and prohibiting them from buying foodstuff or other items back into the U.S.

"We literally walked every step of the process," said Stidhams. "We found the post customs phase was where passengers had to endure a waiting period of anywhere between four and six hours, when manifests and reports were being generated."

The 386th ELRS team streamlined the old procedure in two ways: certifying Airmen in U.S. Customs and Border Protection procedures and techniques, to perform the duties of customs agents and establishing the first Air Force site with Airmen performing 100 percent backdrop (checking every passenger's baggage, including carry-on).

"In the end, the process was a plus for everyone involved," said Stidhams. "Instead of having a system that condoned the ‘hurry up and wait' attitude, we had passengers out of the terminal in a timely manner."

While Stidhams worked the redeployment process in the day, Whitney, a plumbing student at Construction Institute Training Center in Bellevue, applied the same process at night. Whitney said passengers were in awe of the new process and how the time was cut to almost half.

"In some instances, people who came through U.S. Customs and got their bags inspected and checked, were allowed to leave the terminal for a few hours and came back later," said Whitney, a native of Seattle. "This was never done before."

Both sergeants said the deployment gave them the opportunity to get hands-on training in U.S. Customs and Border Protection regulations and to implement a process created by the Air Force, for the Air Force. The drastic reduction in wait time passengers now experience is proof the new process is a success.

"We helped everyone who came through customs," said Whitney. "We never turned anyone away and people were extremely happy with the new process."

The logistic planners said plans are in process to implement the new procedure with only Air Force personnel at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center, Southwest Asia and Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. They advise Reservists to be patient as the new process is being introduced downrange.

But, in the end, they said, "It's Airmen taking care of Airmen."

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