Monday, February 07, 2011

Guardmember draws on civilian-acquired skills to give unique training in Iraq

By 1st Lt. Nathan Lavy
224th Sustainment Brigade

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq (2/7/11) – Using his civilian-acquired skills, the 224th Sustainment Brigade support operations sergeant major, with the 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), provided Customs Border Clearance Agent training for Soldiers here.

More than 30 Soldiers with the 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, received CBCA training Jan. 24 to 25, qualifying them to inspect and certify redeploying Soldiers’ equipment and vehicles heading back to the United States.

“What this training provides is for U.S. military, non-branch specific, the opportunity to search and inspect equipment, duffel bags, TUFF boxes, and [containers], to include aircraft,” said Army Sgt. Maj. Jorge Ortiz, support operations sergeant major with the 224th Sust. Bde., 103rd ESC.

“They are looking for the same things that I look for at the border.”

Ortiz is a supervisory Customs and Border Protection officer at the Calexico, Calif., port-of-entry, previously being on its anti-terrorism contraband enforcement team.

“I’ve been doing my job for over 15 years,” Ortiz said.

“Working at the land border ports of entry is like being a police officer in a city, but without having probable cause. If I suspect you have something, I do not need a search warrant to search you.

“We do what is called ‘selectivity;’ we select certain travelers based on trends. We use our targeting techniques, indicators, and our questioning and searching techniques to see if people are legit. We also deal with vehicles, conveyances, and the railroad.

“We are looking for terrorists, narcotics, illegals, stolen vehicles, ammunition, guns, and money.”

Ortiz is the only qualified instructor in Iraq.

“To be a CBCA, you must be a noncommissioned officer and above, and you have to go through a criminal background check,” Ortiz said.

“Trained Soldiers have the full authority to do the inspections, and they can only do it overseas in all the countries that fall under [Central Command]. The certification is valid for the duration the Soldier is deployed.”

Ortiz’s training included one day of classroom instruction and one day of hands-on practical instruction.

Army Sgt. Tommy Leath, a support operations maintenance non-commissioned officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Advise and Assist Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, participated in the training.

“The training has been outstanding,” Leath said. “I learned a lot from the classroom portion. The hands-on training was the best part because we’re actually out here doing it. …

“We want to make sure there is no ammo, rounds, weapons or brass that aren’t authorized, and if there are any war trophies. He [Ortiz] was a great instructor – very knowledgeable. He explained to us that this is what he does as a civilian, and it was very helpful.”

The trainees were able to participate and assist in a live inspection conducted by three trained CBCA Soldiers at the “Iron Strong” 3rd AAB headquarters compound on the second day of their training. Ortiz was on scene to provide guidance and instruction.

“I’m glad there was hands-on,” said Army Sgt. Marcus Burke, a tank commander with 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd AAB. “The most interesting part of the training was actually doing [an inspection].”

Army Staff Sgt. Nicky Cruzfargus, a fueler with 1st Bn., 8th Inf. Regt., 3rd AAB, was another trainee assisting in inspections of the Soldiers’ gear and equipment.

“The training was excellent, because we learned a lot of stuff relating to rules that protect the United States,” Cruzfargus said. “With this kind of training you show the Soldiers the right way to conduct an inspection before you redeploy back to the States.

“When we saw the pictures and videos that the instructor showed, we never expected to see all the crazy stuff people try to hide and bring back home. We are looking for illegal stuff, like war trophies, ammunition, items that are prohibited, like soils [and] trademarked items. The instructor is squared away; he’s an outstanding instructor, and he did a really great job.”

During his training, Ortiz explains why he loves his job. “The best part of my job is that it’s like a soap opera; everyday is not the same – people come across [the border] drunk, bleeding, or a [baseball] bat in their windshield from fighting, people running or being chased,” Ortiz explained.

Ortiz said he was happy he could provide this training and said it was a unique opportunity to be available to be an instructor in Iraq.

“I’m glad I got the exception to policy to train the Soldiers here,” Ortiz said. “To get a uniform … agent to come here takes a lot of time, logistics, and coordination to make it happen. It’s unique that I am here, because I am qualified to train as an instructor.

“I’m going to be able to help several units in their redeployment process.”

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