Mail Handlers in Overdrive to Get Christmas Packages to Soldiers
By Spc. Ben Hutto, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq, Dec. 21, 2007 While most soldiers are tucked in their beds for the night, a mail handler with 461st Human Resource Battalion, out of Decatur, Ga., is waiting for the mail to arrive.
Army Pfc. Cassie Durkin, from Whitewater, Wis., a human resource specialist for 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, sorts packages at Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq, Dec. 14, 2007. Photo by Spc. Ben Hutto, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“We started getting a spike in mail at the end of October,” explained Army Spc. Tony Rogers, from Tunnel Hill, Ga. “We went from getting four or five (shipping containers) of mail a week to over 10 a week. I try to be there when the trucks arrive to make sure everything goes smoothly. We don’t want any mix-ups that would cause a soldier not to get mail.”
The trucks normally arrive from Baghdad between 1:30 and 2 a.m. Four hours later, Rogers arrives to work at 6 a.m. to sort the mail.
“I don’t mind,” he said. “These packages are a big morale boost for the soldiers. I know how important it is for soldiers to be able to stay in touch with their families back home. It is worth it to see a soldier get a package and get excited. The holidays are tough, and anything I can do to cheer these guys up is important.”
Army Pfc. Cassie Durkin, from Whitewater, Wis., a human resource specialist for 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, is a brigade staff mail handler. “It has really been busy here lately,” she said. “We used to get mail once or twice a week, but it has been coming in every day lately. People are trying to get their loved ones packages and cards for the holidays, but it’s a lot.”
Durkin arrives at 6 a.m. with the other mail handlers to sort through each shipping container and separate letters and packages by unit. “We work for three hours straight normally,” she said. “There is a lot of detail that goes into it, because we have to read every address and make sure that each package gets put in with the right section.”
Durkin explained that her first three hours of the day are just the beginning. “Official mail call starts at 9:30 and lasts until 2 p.m., but we haven’t been getting out until 6 or 7 p.m. most days,” she said. “We stay as late as we need to. We make sure that everyone has a chance to get their mail. A lot of people have missions that keep them from coming during official hours so we stay and help them out.”
It is a demanding job, but Durkin said she enjoys it. “It can be very tiring, but I’m happy to help people out,” she said. “I personally try to help out people by hand delivering what I can, especially people that I know have a lot on their plate and can’t get down here. Someone else’s happiness really makes the job worth it. I really enjoy seeing people get something special from home. It’s tough when you see soldiers getting antsy because a package they are expecting hasn’t arrived yet. I try and get everyone their packages so they don’t have to go through that.”
As Christmas gets closer, Durkin said, mail is a critical part of mission effectiveness. “It is the most important thing for the soldiers’ morale right now,” she said. “Presents, Christmas cards, homemade cookies and pictures are all pieces of home that soldiers out here need. If I can help with that, it’s a good thing.”
(Army Spc. Ben Hutto is assigned to 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs.)