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NEWS | Jan. 13, 2022

LRC Italy’s hidden heroes ensure all imports, exports are ‘customs cleared’

By Cameron Porter 405th Army Field Support brigade

The Logistics Readiness Centers in Europe are responsible for a number of logistical support and service activities for their assigned garrisons. They’re responsible for installation maintenance, transportation, food service, clothing issue facility operations, personal property shipping, passenger travel, and non-tactical vehicle and garrison equipment management.

But in Italy, there’s one more.

The team at LRC Italy – headquartered in Vicenza, Italy, and assigned to the 405th Army Field Support Brigade – is responsible for all customs operations supporting the Army South of the Alps.

Unlike Germany, for example, where the Army’s customs mission at the airports is contracted out, LRC Italy supports all customs operations directly, and Scott Frakes heads up these operations.

Frakes is the customs supervisor within the Transportation Division at LRC Italy. Frakes has customs personnel at two locations in Italy, both local national and Army civilians.

“I have the Vicenza location which covers northern Italy, and I have the Camp Darby location, which covers central Italy,” Frakes said. “I have four Army civilian customs agents, two local national employees and about 20 personnel who are borrowed manpower and are trained by me to assist with the agricultural program.”

The LRC Italy customs office manages the entire customs program for the Army stationed South of the Alps. Part of that includes not only working with the Italian customs and European customs agencies but also the port agents at all the airports and seaports, said Frakes.

“When you go into the Exchange and buy a new pair of pants or you go to the commissary and buy some meat, you don’t see that all these things came through us. You don’t see everything that needs to happen so you can buy what you need,” Frakes said.

“It’s the same thing with the tactical equipment – the weapons, the ammunition – everything that comes into the Vicenza and the Camp Darby areas of responsibility comes through us,” said Frakes.

“Everything imported into Italy – COVID-19 vaccines, commissary groceries, Exchange goods on the PX shelves, military clothing and equipment, household goods, military rolling stock and ammunition – must all be customs cleared,” said Keli’i Bright, the director of LRC Italy.

“If we’re doing our jobs right, nobody knows we exist, and that’s the great thing about it,” Frakes said.

“That’s a testament to them,” Bright added. “They’re Italy’s hidden heroes.”

Another example of LRC Italy’s customs reach and responsibility is the U.S. Mail mission at the airport in Milan, Italy. Frakes and his team support this as well as all commercial import and export missions. They also handle all the household goods and privately owned vehicle shipments. Agricultural compliance as part of the agricultural pre clearance program, which is operated on behalf of the Customs Executive Agency headquartered in Germany, is one more responsibility Frakes and his team have.

Each LRC Italy customs border clearance agent is trained and certified to inspect household goods, unaccompanied baggage and cargo shipments to ensure they are free of evasive species, soil, seeds, weeds and insects – anything that would be a violation of Customs Executive Agency policy, Presidential orders or Department of Agriculture compliance requirements.

Frustrated cargo is also something Frakes and his team are very familiar with. When a shipment is stopped or seized for whatever reason, it’s considered frustrated cargo. If this happens, the LRC Italy customs team jumps into action.

“Most of the time, when a shipment is seized at one of the ports, it’s because something doesn’t match on the invoice,” Frakes said. “It could be pretty much anything – maybe the description is wrong, the weight is wrong, items are missing or something was added to the shipment.”

A good example of a frustrated cargo issue the customs team responded to and resolved occurred when the COVID-19 pandemic initially impacted U.S. forces in Italy.

“At first, the COVID-19 vaccines we were receiving from the United States were not authorized in Europe so my team had to confer with U.S. European Command and work things out with the Italian government to receive authorization to import these vaccines and use them on our U.S. installations in Italy,” Frakes said.

The fantastic working relationship the LRC Italy customs office has with Italian host nation officials has helped empower them when situations like this arise, Bright said.

“Scott (Frakes) being bilingual in the Venetian dialect has helped us maintain good standing through some challenging moments,” said Bright. “Unlike most of us in Italy, Scott's counterparts don't work for the U.S. government. During any situation and at any given moment, the Italian officials can always say no.”

U.S. Army Garrison Italy, U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, the Exchange – they have all come on line recognizing the customs office’s criticality since everyone's missions are dead without them, said Bright.

LRC Italy is one of seven LRCs under the command and control of the 405th AFSB. When it comes to providing day-to-day installation services, LRC Italy directs, manages and coordinates a variety of operations and activities in support of U.S. Army Garrison Italy. The 405th AFSB is assigned to U.S. Army Sustainment Command and under the operational control of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, U.S. Army Europe and Africa. The brigade is headquartered in Kaiserslautern, Germany, and provides materiel enterprise support to U.S. Forces throughout Europe and Africa – providing theater sustainment logistics; synchronizing acquisition, logistics and technology; and leveraging U.S. Army Materiel Command’s materiel enterprise to support joint forces. For more information on the 405th AFSB, visit the official website at www.afsbeurope.army.mil and the official Facebook site at www.facebook.com/405thAFSB.