Servicemembers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are prohibited from bringing back to the United States any items that were formerly in the possession of the enemy, officials said.
With about 140,000 American servicemembers scheduled to rotate out of Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. Central Command officials are very clear that servicemembers cannot bring home weapons, ammunition or other prohibited items.
A few soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division understand how serious the command is. Some tried to smuggle weapons back from Baghdad, and they have gone through courts-martial. Others received Article 15 administrative punishments.
"There is a whole spectrum of punishments, depending on the severity of the offense," said Army Maj. Robert Resnick, a lawyer at Fort Stewart, Ga.
Army Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command, has put out the policy. Basically, under no circumstances can individuals take as a souvenir an object that was formerly in the possession of the enemy. The taking of war trophies goes against the coalition mission in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials said.
"We didn't go into Iraq or Afghanistan to conquer them, but to liberate them," said Marine Capt. Bruce Frame, a Central Command spokesman. "Taking articles from those countries sends the wrong message."
Servicemembers with questions should work through the chain of command, CENTCOM officials said, adding that they will be given ample briefings on what is allowed and what is not. In the case of Iraq, unit commanders will brief servicemembers on the policy before leaving for Kuwait.
In Kuwait, military police will explain the policy and will permit an amnesty period before searching gear and vehicles. In the United States, U.S. Customs Service officials will examine individual gear.
In Afghanistan, unit commanders will explain the policy, and military police there also will explain it and offer an amnesty period before the servicemembers board the planes. Again, customs officials will examine gear and baggage upon return to the United States.
The same prohibitions pertain to American civilians serving in the Central Command area of operations.
Other federal laws pertain to other items. For example, servicemembers cannot bring back plants, animals or other organic materials.
No one can bring antiquities into the United States, and of course, no one can bring drugs or drug paraphernalia, officials said.
The overall prohibition does not pertain to souvenirs that can be legally imported into the United States, officials said.