DoD Working to Speed Up Military Mail System
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 26, 2004 Acknowledging that problems persist in the military mail system, Defense Department officials said they are taking steps to improve the process.
A report this month by the General Accounting Office, which oversees government agencies and spending, said long-standing problems with military mail delivery need to be resolved.
DoD is aware of the problem and is working to remedy it, said Charles S. Abell, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, in an interview with the American Forces Radio and Television Service.
"Mail is very important to our service members and their families, and thus it's very important to the Department of Defense and the leadership," Abell said. "Every time we identify a glitch in the process, we move immediately to fix it."
According to the GAO report, more than 65 million pounds of letters and parcels were delivered to troops serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and problems with prompt and reliable mail delivery surfaced early on.
Congress and the White House forwarded more than 300 inquiries about mail delivery problems to military postal officials, the report said.
The GAO reported that soldiers and Marines in Operation Iraqi Freedom were unhappy with mail service; almost 60 percent of 127 service members surveyed said they were "dissatisfied" with the timeliness of mail delivery.
Although a test of transit time for mail delivery by military postal officials showed that so-called "data test letters" arrived in theater within the wartime standard of 11 to 14 days, service members said their personal mail actually took much longer to reach them.
More than half of the surveyed soldiers from Fort Stewart, Ga., and Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., said they waited four weeks or longer to get mail. Others commented that mail took as long as four months to work its way through the system, the report said.
Another 80 percent said they were aware of mail that was sent to them but was not received while they were deployed. The nonreceipt of mail became a concern for friends and family back home, the report stated.
Abell said that during a recent visit to Iraq, he talked to commanders and soldiers about mail delivery and found "generally good" reports.
He said slow delivery can be attributed to the sheer distance the mail has to travel to reach the theater and the remote locations of some units on the ground. Mail to Iraq is delivered either by tactical airlift, or along dangerous convoy supply routes from Kuwait and Bahrain.
"It takes a lot of logistical support to get the mail from 'Mr. and Mrs. America' to our units on the ground," Abell said. "We're working it, we're watching the flow, and every time we can find a way to decrease the transit time, we act on it."
Abell said stability in Iraq will help to ease some mail delivery problems, because "units aren't moving around as much we know where they are and the logistical links to them to provide the mail." DoD also increased the number and size of military postal units in Kuwait and Bahrain, Abell said, which has helped to reduce transit times.
He noted that the mail will be especially important as election time approaches, with thousands of service members expected to request and mail in absentee ballots. To ensure that votes arrive in the mail on time, Abell said, deployed eligible voters should seek out their voting assistance officers to learn more about requirements to vote in their state, precinct, borough or locality. "They have the materials and can help the individual go through the process," he said.
Abell also urged overseas voters to request a ballot no later than the second week of September. He said absentee voters should mail their ballot on or before Oct. 20, so that "no matter where you are in our service overseas, your ballot will get to the right place by the time it needs to be there to be counted."
He also advised family members sending mail to Iraq to use a current address, to print clearly and to include the proper postage.