For many service members, especially those stationed overseas, mail can be a lifeline to family, friends, and feeling connected to home. For those stationed within U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, there is a team of Airmen dedicated to providing timely, cost effective, and efficient mail services.
The USAFE-AFAFRICA Air Postal Squadron represents the major commands as the single point of contact for Air Force postal matters. The squadron provides policy, procedures, and guidance for all USAFE-AFAFRICA postal operating locations and exercises command of aerial mail terminals assigned to the USAFE-AFAFRICA AIRPS.
In a nutshell, the squadron ensures all mail travelling to and from the major command is transported by the fastest and most reliable means possible, while also ensuring the right mail goes to the right place.
“Our mission is essentially to get your mail to you,” said Staff Sgt. Dereth Worrell, USAFE-AFAFRICA AIRPS noncommissioned officer in charge of command postal transportation. “What my flight does, as we like to put it, if the post offices in the states and Army Post Offices here are A and Z, we cover everything from B to Y. We set up things like how your mail moves, what it takes to move, or should a new APO open.
The AIRPS Postal Transportation flight validated a total volume of approximately 40 million pounds of inbound and outbound mail moved from Sept. 1, 2016, to Sept. 1, 2017.
The journey a package undergoes to reach its final destination is a long process that requires many moving parts. Once a package is dropped off at a local post office in the states, it is shipped to a U.S. Postal Service sorting facility in Chicago, within the O’Hare International Airport that is two football fields long. This facility processes Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express Military Service going overseas, whether it’s civilian, military, or Department of State. Joint Military Postal Activity military personnel are assigned as liaisons to the USPS at the Chicago mail sorting facility.
At the sorting plant, mail is sorted and loaded onto commercial aircraft flying to one of the three main hubs for military mail in Frankfurt, Germany; London and Istanbul. However, for military post offices in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, mail can also be shipped to a USPS sorting facility in Jersey City, New Jersey, to a facility that processes retail ground and space available mail destined for APOs in those three countries. Additionally, JMPA personnel are also assigned as liaisons to the USPS at the New Jersey mail sorting facility.
“No one really thinks about the transportation aspect,” Worrell said. “They think, ‘Oh, I ordered this or my friends or family sent me this, and two weeks later it shows up in my box.’ It takes a lot of work. You’re dealing with so many entities and factors that can change everything, such as weather or civil disturbances. Waiting two and half weeks to get something isn’t that bad considering everything that box has to go through in order to get to you.”
The squadron has detachments at the hubs, for which the air postal squadron provides the tools, resources, policy, and oversight while adhering to postal policies outlined by USPS, the Air Force, Military Postal Service Agency, and the Air Force and Army major commands in Europe. They also manage mail movement to include the monitoring of Department of Defense official and personal mail in military and commercial transportation channels.
While most of the handling of the mail is done by contractors, the Airmen in the detachments oversee the offloading, inspecting, sorting, and loading onto trucks the mail undergoes.
“My favorite part was when I was working at the air mail terminal in Turkey and actually seeing everything move, getting to load up the trucks, make sure everything was there and sending it off,” Worrell said. “It was very physical, and yes you were pretty much doing the same thing every day – I pick up box, I move box – but it was eye opening.”
The U.S. Air Force works hand in hand with the U.S. Army to deliver mail throughout Europe. The Air Force is in charge of air transportation, but once all the packages and letters have been loaded into their respective trucks, the Army takes over the ground transportation.
Receiving mail can seem like such a small thing, but it can have a positive effect on Airmen.
“Mail is a very significant component of morale and greater morale has proven to be a major contributor to Airmen productivity,” said Master Sgt. Gregory Sartain, USAFE-AFAFRICA functional area manager. “Happy folks are better working folks. We are directly contributing to the delivery of Grandma’s cookies to the Airman who’s never been overseas.”
USAFE-AFAFRICA not only handles the transportation of personal mail, they are also responsible for the transportation of official mail throughout the theater.
“Not only do we have a big piece of the personal mail side for every Airman, civilian, and Department of Defense contractor, but we also directly contribute to the mission by ensuring the units have the parts, equipment, and supplies needed to execute their missions,” Sartain said. “We’re talking about aircraft parts, communications pieces, things that are very important.”
The air postal squadron Airmen not only provide mail services to those stationed overseas, when they are deployed they provide the same services to the military members in deployed locations.
“Mail is appreciated in garrison, however, when you’re in a deployed environment, it’s different,” Sartain said. “When the Airman, Soldier, Marine, or Sailor gets that letter from home that smells like their girlfriend’s perfume or they get cookies from mom while in a hostile and austere condition, it means more. There’s nothing more gratifying then handing a package to a service member and see their face light up. I really enjoy the deployments, being able to provide that morale support, which at times is crucial in a wartime situation.”
The squadron conducts annual inspections and audits of USAFE-AFAFRICA postal operating locations’ postal effects, verifies accountability and serviceability of postal equipment, and coordinates with many entities on contingency and exercise postal support in response to USAFE-AFAFRICA, USEUCOM, USAFRICOM, Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Army Europe, and U.S. Navy Europe requirements.
The staff Airmen stationed at Ramstein work with air carriers, USPS, and other entities to ensure the best service possible is used in transporting service members’ mail. This can be coming to agreements with contractors to provide timely deliveries, finding new ways to deliver mail more often to a certain area, or making sure companies adhere to the agreed upon standards.
“The most rewarding thing working on staff is when we set up a new lane,” Worrell said. “It’s knowing we made someone’s day get just a little bit brighter because we were able to get their mail to them a little bit faster.”
The USAFE-AFAFRICA AIRPS Airmen use their skills to bridge the distance between service members stationed in Europe away from home and their loved ones.