Nine soldiers from the 209th Military Police Company, 519th Military Police Battalion, 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, deployed to Haiti in February to assist with earthquake relief. What they did not know was that shortly after their arrival, they would be trained on customs procedures and put in charge of the customs operations at the seaport.

 


Nine soldiers from the 209th Military Police Company, 519th Military Police Battalion, 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, deployed to Haiti in February to assist with earthquake relief. What they did not know was that shortly after their arrival, they would be trained on customs procedures and put in charge of the customs operations at the seaport.
"I didn't think I was coming to Haiti to do customs," said Spc. Nicholas Vespa. "I'm happy about it though, and glad I was able to get this experience."
Vespa was put in charge of the night shift crew. His team would report at 7 p.m., get an update on the number of items cleared through customs for the day and continue the customs inspection throughout the night.
"We make sure there is no dirt or contraband on the vehicles and containers," Vespa said. "We make sure the Haitians get the hot spots. If they miss a spot, we just point it out and they go over it again."
Local Haitian crews were contracted to assist in cleaning the equipment as more units redeploy. Vespa said the only difficulty they encountered was the language barrier, but that got easier as time went by.
Sgt. Justin Condon said he didn't expect to be doing customs.
"We got put into the class and a few days later we took charge (of customs) at the port," Condon said. "I was told 'when in charge, take charge,' so we did."
Condon and nine other soldiers rotate in 12-hour shifts, making sure every piece of equipment is clean.
"Every military piece of equipment, and even some civilian equipment, was cleared by us," Vespa said.
The MPs have cleared more than 2,000 vehicles and 800 humanitarian aid containers. Although the soldiers came from the same company, they did not all come from the same platoon. But that did not stop them from working as a team.
"Between all of us, we learned to work as a team," Condon said. "From the get-go, there was no platoon competition or someone working harder than another. We're one team."
Condon and his soldiers faced not only the challenge of running customs on their own, but also answering questions from units throughout the joint task force.
"We had other units asking us questions (on customs regulations)," Condon said. "So a lot of nights, we stayed after to research online for more information."
Condon added that all his soldiers shared the information and knew as much as he did, which is why he allowed younger ranking soldiers to run the wash rack.
"My soldiers needed to know the answers to questions without saying 'go find my sergeant,' because most times I was working somewhere else," Condon said. Due to the demand and busy schedule, at one point Condon had a private and private first class running the wash rack. He said because his soldiers understood their mission, he felt comfortable leaving them in charge.
The MPs aren't exactly sure when they are redeploying to Fort Polk but Condon said they've been working hard and will continue to do so. "I'm proud of these guys," Condon said.