Bagram Airmen deliver care packages as holidays approach
Staff Sgt. Cynthia Morales, 455th Expeditionary Mission Support Group commander’s executive administrator, offers her co-workers the home-baked cookies she just received in a care package at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 19, 2012. Members of the knowledge operations management office dedicate themselves, day-in and day-out, to provide an appreciated service to 455th Air Expeditionary Wing by keeping the mail flowing. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chris Willis)
by Tech. Sgt. Shawn David McCowan
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
11/21/2012 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- Mail deliveries have been an integral part of deployed military life since the postal delivery process began. Getting a care package or card might be greatly appreciated, but the men and women who spend much of their day processing that mail tend to remain unsung heroes.
Fortunately for Bagram Airfield's Airmen, the 455th Expeditionary Communications Squadron has an enthusiastic team who see their hectic job as its own reward.
Normally 455 ECS's knowledge operations management personnel control base records, publications, and the wing's data assets. But when deployed, a handful of these organized Airmen are given the additional responsibility of receiving, sorting, organizing, and delivering all mail addressed to wing personnel. That small postal processing team will handle an average 1.2 million pounds of mail in six months.
Senior Airman Sasha Laine Brown is one of the four people assigned to postal processing duties at Bagram. She admits the job keeps her very busy, especially during the holiday months. But she can be seen smiling throughout the process, because she knows how much it means to the Airmen waiting to hear from someone back home.
"I love doing mail runs," said Brown. "It's the best part of my deployment. It makes me feel good that I'm giving mail to someone who's been here longer than me. I know it's a big morale booster, and I love to see the different squadrons, and seeing people smile when they get mail."
Far from dreading such a busy and time-consuming extra job, Brown looks forward to postal duties.
"It is an additional KOM duty, so we also have our regular jobs to do," she said. "But I'm out here as much as I can be every day. And we all are out here almost every day."
The postal delivery process starts on the airfield early in the morning. Large "tri-walls" full of mail are brought from an aircraft to the U.S. Post Office dock. Another member of the postal processing team manages the loading of tri-walls onto a tractor-trailer from the 455th Logistics Readiness Squadron. and driven to the postal yard by a 455 LRS member. The process can take about an hour from dock to postal yard.
Tech. Sgt. Nathan Talavera, who manages the postal processing team, is thankful for 455 LRS support. He says an hour is extremely short compared to the time required without LRS help.
"LRS is a huge help," said Talavera. "Without tractor-trailer support, we'd have to move an average 20 tri-walls a day with two 'bread trucks.' We can't get more than six of those tri-walls in a bread truck -- that's a lot of trips."
Once the mail arrives at the postal yard, a fork lift operator is needed to move tri-walls from the trailer to a mail sorting facility. Luckily for the postal processing team, Talavera was previously assigned to a Civil Engineer unit, and happens to be highly proficient with a fork lift. He can move a trailer full of tri-walls in about 20 minutes while the rest of the team begins painstakingly sorting the arriving mail.
Once sorted, mail requiring a signature by 455th Air Expeditionary Wing members can be picked up from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The remaining mail is loaded on trucks and delivered all around the base, which can take another three hours.
Already a busy job, postal processors' days get busier and longer as the holidays approach. Out of the more than one million pounds of mail arriving within six months, about 600,000 pounds of it arrives during November and December alone, averaging nearly 11,000 pounds per day. The average daily number of arriving mail containers jumps from 20 to as many as 40.
Huge increases in mail volume during holiday months also increases delivery times to and from Afghanistan. Talavera says military members in Afghanistan and families back home should expect delivery times to as much as double depending on distance the mail must travel. Meanwhile, the same four people manage to maintain timely processing and delivery of mail around Bagram Airfield.
Even though the postal processing team works long hours while completing a hectic mission every day, Talavera says the team is a positive group that he truly appreciates.
"I have got an awesome team of folks," said Talavera. "They are the lifeblood of this huge operation, and none of this would get done without them. It's amazing how positive they are all the time and how well-coordinated their teamwork is. LRS is also a major part of our success because of their tractor-trailers and drivers. Without all these people, this job would be a lot harder to do, and it would take a lot longer to do it."
The mail team encourages Airmen to drop off their holiday mail as soon as possible. To ensure delivery by the holidays, they recommended Space Available Mail be sent to Bagram by November 26, Parcel Airlift Mail by Nov. 30, and First Class and Priority mail by Dec. 3.
Regardless of the work still waiting at their workplace, or how many tons of mail arrived, and without a hint of the effort necessary to reach recipients, Bagram Airmen can expect the same calm and pleasant demeanor from their unassuming heroes; Airmen who processed 11,000 pounds of letters, cards, and gifts that day to happily deliver a "Thank you," an, "I love you," or a "Happy Holidays," from someone half a world away.