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How mail gets to the AOR

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Deployments have changed over the years. It’s now easier than ever to stay connected with loved ones back at home through video chats and messenger applications, but there still isn’t anything quite like receiving a hand-written birthday card or a care package with a favorite homemade snack. In fact, mail calls are important for boosting morale.

Getting these letters and packages to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing not only requires covering long distances, but also includes the concerted efforts of a variety of locations and units.

Before the mail even arrives in the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility, the 609th Air Communication Squadron, an AFCENT tenant unit, works as a liaison between the post office and the host nation’s customs agency to ensure the incoming mail makes a smooth transition to its destination, explained Tech. Sgt. Melissa Cervantes, the 609th ACOMS mail control activity chief.

“We perform quality assurance on Department of Defense United States Postal Service mail movement contracts and monitor 450 plus flights annually while providing government oversight and verification of contractor weighed and built pallets,” Cervantes said. “We also process, receive and dispatch from 11 inbound and outbound international commercial carriers.”

Through the process of monitoring and verifying all these pallets, the squadron processes an average of 4.5 million pounds of mail, shipping to 578 world locations in support of 160,000 deployed personnel throughout the AOR, said Cervantes.

The mail is then taken from the airport to a Joint Military Mail Terminal, where it is X-rayed and inspected to ensure there are no prohibited items being shipped, she explained. Next, the mail is sorted by zip code, palletized and then loaded onto a truck.

Up to two of these trucks head to the 386th each day, where they are offloaded by post office contractors and sorted with the help of volunteers from around base, said 1st Lt. Venkatesh Kamath, the 386th Expeditionary Communications Squadron plans and resources flight commander.

The mail on these trucks includes letters and packages not only for the 386th, but other branches and coalition partners around base as well. Sometimes this mail can be for geographically-separated units operating in austere locations, Kamath said.

Getting mail to all these entities can pose a problem considering the confined space in which contractors operate, he explained. For now, they have an organized process in place to make the most out of the small space, but as the base continues to grow, they’ll begin to look for ways to grow the space as well.

“One of the projects we’re working on right now is to expand the postal facility,” Kamath said. “We hope to increase the size of the post office so that it’s more helpful for contractors over here and so they have more room to store the mail and break it down.”

Although personal letters and care packages make up a large portion of the incoming mail, it’s not the only reason for having a post office on base. Mail can also serve as a means for ensuring deployed members are able to continue performing their civic duties while serving their country abroad.

“Everybody likes receiving care packages and letters or Christmas presents from loved ones,” explained Kamath. “During the election season, we also received a whole lot of ballots.”

At the end of the day, though, incoming mail serves as one of the largest contributors to boosted morale among those deployed to the region.

“Mail is the morale booster that keeps everyone going – whether it’s candy or receiving something from their loved ones.” said Cervantes.

Through the cooperation of all those involved in the process, deployed service members won’t have to worry about not getting mail due to the distance it has to travel or the small space where it has to be offloaded and sorted.

“We have a great bunch of people who are very experienced and very professional and they do an excellent job,” Kamath said. “Come rain or shine, everybody gets their mail.”