AL WALEED, Iraq --
The night sky gave little illumination to the small foot patrol as they left the base at al-Waleed, Iraq, March 31.
They passed through the gate and headed towards the Port of Entry at al-Waleed to discreetly observe one of the check points where Customs Police were checking vehicles for contraband as they entered Iraq from Syria.
“We wanted to get a good idea of how the port was operating at night,” said Capt. Leon M. Mitchell, 30, from Katy, Texas, who is the operations officer for the Port of Entry Team, Iraqi Security Forces Transition Team, Multi-National Force West, in al-Waleed.
Members of the POET continuously monitor operations at the port. The port in al-Waleed is one of the busiest ports in western Iraq where many commercial trucks pass through from Syria. At the port, commercial trucks are searched and passports are checked and stamped.
“It is (important) for us to be there at night because then we can see where we need to apply pressure to improve the port,”said Mitchell.
The POET also does random inspections to make sure the port workers are doing their job correctly.
“A couple of days ago we did a health and comfort inspection at the barracks on the east side of the port ,” said Sgt. Michael D. Wallace, 27, from Whitney, Texas, who is a customs police mentor for the al-Waleed POET.
By conducting random inspections, the POET is helping to maintain good order and discipline among the Custom Police.
After searching the barracks, the Marines and other advisors made their way to the civilian search point.
There they found a Sport Utility Vehicle carrying blank ration cards.
The cards are a holdover from the food-for-oil program implemented by the old regime and can still be used to acquire other forms of identification, said Mitchell.
“Our job here is teaching them what the right thing is to do and to hold them accountable when they don’t do it,” said Mitchell. “We are essentially here to train ourselves out of a job so they can become self-sufficient.
Advancing to the point of self-sufficiency is not an overnight achievement, but there has been progress. The Customs Police have become more reliable and they are always on the lookout for suspicious vehicles.
The al-Waleed port may have a long journey ahead of it before it can be turned back over to the Iraqis completely, but progress is being made.