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After Food and Water, Troops Want Mail

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 8, 2003 – French military commander and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte declared that an army travels on its stomach.

That still holds true today, with one important addition: "It's been said that after food and water, the troops want their mail next," said Edward A. Pardini, deputy director, Military Postal Service Agency.

"Mail and packages are extremely important to troops, particularly from family, loved ones and friends," Pardini emphasized."

Unfortunately, the Department of Defense had to stop programs that allowed the general public to send mail and packages to troops under such programs as "Operation Dear Abby" and "Any Service Member," Pardini noted.

"And when we're overwhelmed, like we've been in past conflicts when we had Any Service Member packages, it swamps the system and could delay the mail from the very ones the loved ones are trying to get it there," he said.

Security brought further concerns after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax incidents, he noted. DoD official were concerned about terrorists or someone else using the military mail system to introduce hazardous substances or materials. They feared that allowing the programs to continue would defeat force protection measures and possibly put troops in danger.

Any Service Member and Dear Abby were wonderful programs, Pardini said. But they "just didn't have a place in the times when people might be doing harm to the troops."

Asked if there has been any problem with getting hazardous materials in the mail, Pardini said, "No, we haven't. We're very fortunate."

The screening process is very difficult, he noted. "You can imagine the massive volumes we have," Pardini said. "The mail can't be screened in its total entirety. It's controlled at the window where it's accepted at the post office because people have to put a customs tag on it. But it's always better if it comes from a family member or friend who knows the service person."

Also, officials said unsolicited mail, packages and donations from organizations and individuals could compete for limited airlift space to transport supplies, warfighting materiel and mail from family and loved ones.

To family members, friends and others who want to send something to troops overseas, Pardini said, "We want support of the troops. There's absolutely no doubt. There's no way we're saying that people shouldn't support the troops. It's just that the general public using the mail to support the troops is not what we're encouraging."

As to the volume of mail to troops, Pardini said, "It's very high. We have big volumes all the time to places where there are high concentrations of troops, like Korea and Germany."

Pardini said now with the war in Iraq, more than 1 million pounds of mail per week is going to the Middle East.

He noted there have been glitches and emphasized that the U.S. Postal Service, not the Military Postal Service Agency, dispatches mail. The military agency has military and civilian liaison personnel working with the postal service at major gateways such as San Francisco and New York. This ensures that mail is dispatched to the right locations, units and APO and FPO designations.

Cancelled regular passenger flights and other airline problems have forced the postal service to use chartered aircraft for military mail going to Kuwait for troops participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"We're using a lot of chartered 747s and other cargo planes, which are not Military Airlift Command aircraft, so we're not clogging up the supply channels," Pardini said.

"We started with three charters flying roundtrip from the New York area to Kuwait. As the volumes built up, the postal service made arrangements for three more charters a week from the New York area. Now there are three charters starting from San Francisco."

Pardini said he expects "much better delivery than we've had before because it's a straight shot, no transfers in Europe or the Pacific to get to Kuwait."

He also advised people to access Internet sites such as http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/2002/b12122002_bt632-02.html , where people can support the troops in a number of ways.

And, Pardini pointed out, supporting the families of military personnel is another important aspect of supporting the troops. "Many of them are young and the families can use help," he said. "If you're near a large concentration of military personnel, contact the installation and family support can be arranged. Maybe it would be babysitting for people who have problems."

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