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Feature Stories

NEWS | May 20, 2020

Spartan Soldiers Defense Against Invasive Species

By Story by Sgt. Andrew Valenza Task Force Spartan

The sight of Soldiers washing vehicles may seem mundane. Still, for those who have felt the sting of foreign invasive species like the "murder hornet," it can be a powerful reminder of nature's strength.

Task Force Spartan Soldiers work with service members from the 304th Sustainment Brigade, the Rhode Island Army National Guard's 115th Military Police Company are vital defenders against potentially dangerous materials coming back from the Middle East.

Staff Sgt. Cheyanne Rosario, non-commissioned officer in charge of wash rack and customs inspection operations, spoke on the importance of washing the vehicles.

"The importance of washing vehicles coming in and out of here is the large agricultural threat as well as contraband, and the threat it poses to the United States," said Rosario. "The hornets that are located in Washington [state] was one of those agricultural threats that's effecting civilians."

Soldiers of Rosario's unit, the 115th Military Police Company, inspect and certify all vehicles before they leave the Middle East en route to the United States to ensure they do not contain any such hazardous agricultural material remains or contraband.

As explained by Rosario, this can easily become a problem because of how foreign species can negatively affect the environment back home. Sgt. Ernest Coit, a U.S. Customs Inspector with the 115th, addressed how the contaminants can be harmful when brought into the U.S. with another example.

"We had a problem a few years back with Carp coming back from Japan and its infestation of lakes," said Coit. "They end up taking over, and it ends up hurting the environment we have back home. Anything whether it's in the grass or wood, we don't want it."

The process is extensive, according to Coit, who appeared to leave no area of a vehicle untouched during an inspection. When clearing out the vehicles, the Soldiers are looking for hazardous material like dirt, sand, and wood or contraband like spent ammunition.

Coit had some advice for units going through the process.

"They're going to find dirt everywhere, but usually what we tell them to do is, pull it up to the rack, go inside, we want them to open up all the hatches, open everything up," said Coit. "They get everything out first, and once it's out, they can start washing."

After cleaning is complete, customs inspectors will have a once-over look, clearing the vehicle on the flat. They will then pull the vehicle up to the ramp and inspect the undersides from the exhaust to the top of the transmission mount.

Once the inspectors clear a vehicle, it is moved to the sterile yard where it remains until it is shipped home.

With so much at stake, Staff Sgt. Rosario ensures his Soldiers are always up to standard and prepared to do the job right.

"We train all the time," he said, "we make sure they're up to compliance… and make sure we enforce the standards 100 percent."