LETTERS AND PACKAGES FROM HOME

Neither rain, nor wind, nor desert sands… might be a modern rewrite of the famous postal service motto. Each week the U.S. Postal and Military Mail Services process about two million pounds of mail for Iraq and Afghanistan. Of that amount, some items make it to the recipients faster than others, according to Navy LCDR Brian Lomax, agency chief for plans and policy.

Depending on where it originates, a letter or package spends two or three days in the civilian system before it reaches either San Francisco or New York City. Then it travels another 16 to 19 hours by plane before landing in Kuwait or Bahrain. From there, motor vehicles pick up and deliver it to its destinations.

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

“The size of the package is an important factor,” 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 smaller ones are delivered faster. The ideal size is a shoebox. It's very important to correctly address postal items to speed the delivery.”

Some items cannot be mailed. They include: aerosol cans, alcoholic beverages, ammunition, fireworks, flammable or explosive materials and illegal or infectious substances. For more information, call 1-800-ASK-USPS or visit the postal service Web site at www.usps.com.

Though it is not one of the restricted items, Lomax recommended against sending chocolate. “Chocolate and 140 degrees become chocolate paste,” he said. Cookies and sunflower seeds seem to travel well, and placing cookies in a coffee can helps to protect them.

Heat also takes a toll on the tape used in packaging. The postal service officials recommend using clear or brown packaging tape, reinforced packing tape or paper tape. 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 said. “When I was 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 that I'm out here doing my job, and they haven't forgotten who I am.”                                                                                                                                   AFPS