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Postal Help Can Start From Any Location

By Staff Sgt. Jennifer Lindsey, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Sept. 28, 2004 – I used to think of my letters to friends and family as small, sacred paper packages of shared thoughts, hopes and dreams. That was until I volunteered at the post office while serving on deployment here.

Within my first few minutes in the sorting room, I realized that although my letters may seem precious to me, the reality is that there are literally thousands of bits of the very same "sacred" little -- some quite large and very heavy -- packages that are shipped every day.

The first day I helped unload pallets of mail and sort them, the post office staff here was short four people. On the same day, the airfield at Bahrain had been able to send mail pallets to here that had to wait for the next available cargo aircraft to travel to the next leg of their worldwide journey.

Fourteen pallets had arrived, and glad for any help they could get, the postal clerks gave volunteers a quick orientation as to where to place letters and packages based on the address labels taped and printed on the parcels. The instructions sounded simple enough, but I quickly found out that this small post office funnels mail to hundreds of various Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine units. It's also the hub of distribution to other posts in Salerno and Kabul, to name a couple.

How do about 10 people working 12-hour shifts sort thousands of pounds of letters, postcards, magazines, and packages for more than 7,000 people living on post daily? With dedication and compassion, pure and simple.

Postal troops understand what it means to receive a letter from home, to read encouraging words from loved ones. They know how precious Mom's homemade cookies are to the troops.

To help postal workers in their mission to get packages to every Airman Tom, Soldier Richard, and Sailor Harriett here, people don't have to wait for a deployment to Southwest Asia. Help can start from home.

When packing items for shipping to a deployed location, people should keep in mind that packages are going to take a beating, be exposed to heat and cold, and possibly even inclement weather. Troops, food and supplies have priority when shipping plans are created. The mail is the next priority, so patience (and good packaging) is a virtue.

For letters, print the APO AE address boldly and plainly on the front of the envelope. The key is to make the address simple to read at a quick glance. Thousands of letters, publications and hand-sized packages must be sorted daily into various unit mailbags. Boldly printed addresses help speed up the sorting.

Pack multiple items tightly in sturdy corrugated cardboard boxes with lots of stuffing to keep the items contained inside from jostling around and to protect them from getting squashed. Packages that aren't well taped and have wiggle room inside often wind up with crushed corners and broken or damaged contents. The pallets on which the packages are shipped contain hundreds of parcels of various weights. Each package must be able to withstand other heavier packages stacked on top of it. If not, chances are the contents will end up mashed.

Well-taped, heavy plastic boxes and locked military duffle bags seem to work well for shipping also. But it's important to use tear-proof shipping labels and include a shipping address inside the container as well, in case the label on the outside tears away.

Keeping packages small and lightweight can ease the strain on weary postal clerks. Each package must be handed from pallet to pallet at each destination.

Helping the troops at the post office doesn't mean people have to endure a four-, six- or one-year tour of Southwest Asia. Everyone who sends something to troops here can help by following these guidelines.

(Air Force Staff Sgt. Jennifer Lindsey is assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Operations Group.)

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