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Letters, Small Packages Get to Troops Quicker

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 28, 2003 – The U.S. Postal Service and the Military Postal Service Agency process about 2 million pounds of mail a week for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some items make it to the recipient faster than others, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Lomax, agency chief of plans and policy, said here today.

Depending on where it originates, a letter or package spends "a couple of days" in the USPS system before it reaches either San Francisco or New York City, Lomax said. Then it travels another 16 to 19 hours by plane before landing in Kuwait or Bahrain. From there, it's picked up or delivered by motor vehicle.

Once in theater, a letter takes seven to 14 days to reach the service member, while a package usually takes 14 to 24 days, Lomax added. Packages make up 90 percent of the mail.

"The mail is getting to the troops," he said. "The troops are happy. Our intent is to continue to make improvements and exceed their expectations."

Using automated mail scanning equipment and increasing the number of people working at mail facilities are two improvements that have speeded up mail delivery, Lomax said.

People who mail letters and packages also can help, he added. "The size of the package plays an important role," Lomax said. "Large packages take up a lot more room. If there's a choice between taking one large box or a lot of smaller boxes and letters, the large box will stay (at the mail facility). The ideal size is a shoebox. It's also important to correctly address the package."

Aerosol cans, alcoholic beverages, ammunition, fireworks, flammable or explosive materials and illegal or infectious substances are among items that cannot be mailed to service members in Iraq and Afghanistan. For more information, call 1-800-ASK-USPS or visit the USPS Web site.

Though it's not one of the restricted items, Lomax recommends against sending chocolate. "Chocolate and 140 degrees makes chocolate paste," he said.

Cookies and sunflower seeds seem to travel well, he added, and placing cookies in a coffee can helps to protect them.

Heat also takes its toll on the tape used in packaging, Lomax said. The USPS Web site states a clear or brown packaging tape, reinforced packing tape or paper tape is best. Cord, string and twine should not be used, because they can get caught in the mail processing equipment.

Service members love to get mail, Lomax continued. "When I was out at sea, it was always a joy to get a letter from home or a copy of a report card. It's an exhilarating feeling: 'I'm out here doing my job, and they haven't forgotten who I am.'"

Lomax said the mail system's success is a result of the joint effort of the USPS and his agency. "We have motivated soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are committed to doing their job to make sure the mail gets to the troops," he said.

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