Meals came sporadically.
“You eat when someone gives you food,” he recalled.
At the time of his arrest, Hammar and his traveling companion were headed to Costa Rica. The Winnebago motor home contained three long surfboards, three short boards and a stand-up board.
Surfing was going to be therapy of sorts for post-traumatic stress disorder.
After enlisting in 2003, Hammar served a four-year battlefield tour.
After serving another four years in the Reserves, Hammar was diagnosed with PTSD, voluntarily checking himself into a nine-month treatment program at a facility in California’s Napa Valley.
The journey to Mexico and Central America began shortly after his release.
Hammar said he is still perplexed why U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents did not warn him away from taking the .410-bore Sears & Roebuck shotgun into Mexico.
“There are definitely signs that say, ‘Firearms are illegal.’ But 50 feet from that sign it says, ‘Permitted weapons go to this office,’ yada, yada, yada,” Hammar said. Wanting to do things legally, Hammar said he checked at two border crossings.
First, he went to the Veterans Bridge, a major crossing between Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico. After asking questions there, Hammar then crossed at the nearby Los Indios crossing, obtaining a registration form for the gun.
“I went to two different border crossings and asked a dozen different people, and at the end of the day, I got a smile on their face, you know, here’s the paperwork. Enjoy yourself,” Hammar said.
“At any point, if anyone had told me that [I risked jail in Mexico], I would’ve pawned the gun in a pawnshop in a second,” he said.
Sen. Bill Nelson, the state’s Democratic senator, has sought written records from Customs and Border Protection related to Hammar’s crossing with the shotgun, asking for an investigation.
Ardent expressions of concern over the Hammar case came not only from Nelson but also from GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, who was chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the past session and spoke about the case on the House floor.
Tim Johnson reported this from Mexico City. He can be reached at