MP Customs see it all: Knives, drugs, folding

Spc. Leeanne McCoy
21st Theater Support Command

***image1***The 21st Theater Support Command is home to a unique group of Military Police, the 560th Military Police Company, part of the 95th MP Battalion headquartered in Mannheim.

They deploy throughout the European and central theaters wherever they’re needed, ensuring troops follow proper procedures when transporting military equipment and personal gear.

Their main mission is to make sure the equipment and the personal gear , traveling back to the states, is free of soil and contamination, said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Stull, Customs Office NCOIC at the Ramstein Passenger Terminal.

“People think we’re really ruthless when it comes to cleaning the equipment, but in all honesty, it’s what’s best for the environment back in the United States. It’s crazy when one little gypsy moth nest gets over there and wipes out 70,000 acres of trees and woodland, just because these eggs made it over there.”

They also ensure the safety and accountability of Soldiers and civilians flying into Germany via Ramstein. They work hand-in-hand with the Air Force Security Forces and the German Border Police.

“We check the personnel coming in from the states, check their leave paperwork, passports and ID cards,” Sergeant Stull said. “We check to make sure their orders or leave forms match up – make sure there’s no AWOLs (absent without leave) or personnel over here illegally.”

They also make sure travelers don’t bring contraband into the country. Contraband can be weapons, ammunition, fresh foods that could cause cross contamination with the European environment, drugs or unauthorized DVDs and magazines.

“The most common item we find coming in from downrange that needs to go in the amnesty box is pornography,” he said. “If it’s not sold at the Army Air Force Exchange Service, it’s a no-go.”

“Also, there are little concessions on the base that sell hookahs (tobacco smoking device) downrange. Hookahs are illegal. They are considered drug paraphernalia.”

Certain knives are OK, like Army-issued or decorative knives. But switchblades, gravity knives and butterfly knives are forbidden.
Sometimes, prohibited items come in on Soldiers who’ve accidentally packed them.

“We had one incident where a first sergeant from downrange got done running a mission, and then somehow immediately got tasked with being the NCOIC of bringing back prisoners to Mannheim, and he noticed he had a grenade on him,” Sergeant Stull said.

“Things like that, just a few rounds here and there … sometimes Soldiers get thrown on a flight pretty quickly, and they don’t do the proper shakedown. It happens – and they have ammunition on them.”

Sometimes the rules are broken, and it’s not accidental.
“About six months ago, we had two civilians come through here with some folding chairs,” Sergeant Stull said.

“They had two World War II rifles – one German, one American – just beautiful. They had taken the weapons completely apart; they’d taken the chairs and cut the centers out; they stuck the barrel and the butt stock in the center of this chair, and then the trigger mechanisms and all the small stuff – they put in a Ziploc bag and taped it up.

“Then they taped this chair up. So when they got here and got the brief – of what we’d be looking for in our search – they got scared and threw the chairs in our amnesty box. The German rifle wasn’t complete – it didn’t have a bolt. I would’ve loved to see that American rifle go to a museum, but unfortunately we had to destroy them both.”

Approximately once a month, the confiscated items are destroyed by the appropriate authorities, he said.

“We take the knives, weapons and stuff to the metal shop and they’ll cut it up. The glass stuff is taken to the appropriate place – like the recycling yard,” Sergeant Stull said.

“Any pills, drugs and stuff that we confiscate or that we find, we take up to Landstuhl. The DVDs, we do paperwork on them and then cut them up – destroy them right here,” he said.

Though the hours are long, and searching people’s belongings and confiscating items can be grueling, there is an upside to the job.

“Here, I get to meet a lot of different people,” Sergeant Stull said.
“It’s nice that I’m actually able to help the Soldiers coming in from downrange, getting a hold of their units, getting them billeting, getting them a ride, you know. Just sitting down and talking to them, finding out what’s going on downrange. That’s what I like.”

For more information about customs regulations and prohibited items, visit the U.S. Army, Europe homepage at