WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (NNS) -- Commander, Naval Expeditionary Logistics Support Force Rear Adm. "Hank" Tomlin addressed the more than 400 Navy Reservists who make up the new NAVELSF Customs Battalion "Papa" Aug. 16 before their deployment to the Middle East.
Papa will replace Battalion "Oscar," currently in theater, and assume the role of customs inspectors for Soldiers, Marines and Airmen returning to the United States following their deployments to Iraq and Kuwait.
"This mission was considered the most appropriate for the Navy, and particularly the Navy Reserve, to fulfill a vital role in Operation Iraqi Freedom and free Army and Marine personnel for their more traditionally ground combat roles; a role where the Navy is not traditionally and extensively trained," Tomlin said.
Customs Battalion Papa personnel will be stationed throughout areas of Kuwait and Iraq to inspect personal bags, unit equipment and vehicles, and prevent the introduction of foreign plants, pests, parasites or contraband to the United States. Damage from these sources could mean costly damage to the U.S agriculture and economy.
Tomlin reassured the battalion members that this mission, new to many, was vital and appreciated by the Navy.
"The new Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Mullen, read a story about Battalion Papa's training and sent it with some personal remarks looking for further information," Tomlin said. "He'll be looking for a good report, and I am sure that we'll be able to provide him with one."
The mobilization of NAVELSF Customs Battalion Papa is the second Navy rotation of customs inspection personnel in the theater, each trained in Williamsburg with outstanding results. The positive training and effective inspection results are largely because of the wide range of skill sets, maturity and a "willingness to do it better," which is available throughout the Navy Reserve community, Tomlin said.
"The Navy culture prepares Sailors to be experts in their rates and general hands in numerous other areas. The realities of Navy life require it, and this level of flexibility will suit the customs mission well," Tomlin said. "Add to the Navy culture of flexibility the skills each of you bring from the civilian sector, as well as the training each of you have received over these last few weeks, and now we have a uniquely prepared customs battalion," Tomlin said.
Battalion Papa departed for Kuwait Aug. 19 and 20 to begin its tour as customs and border clearance agents.
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