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Post office warns overseas military Christmas mailing deadline is near

RAF MILDENHALL, England — The deadlines for sending gifts for the holidays are fast approaching, and postal officials caution that mail service could be busier than usual this year with U.S. troops withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan and shipping  their belongings home by mail.

To help those mailing packages to the U.S. ensure they are delivered in time, the Military Postal Service Agency has released its annual mail-by dates, which take into account the expected increase in mail during peak season.

The dates are merely a guideline, said William Hossack at U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s Postal Operations Branch, and they vary slightly from the Pacific to the Middle East to Europe. But postal service officials say the earlier, the better.

“We’re saying, if you use these dates for the particular class (of mail), they’ll almost assuredly get there by Christmas,” Hossack said. “The only thing I recommend is to mail early and avoid the rush.”

Packages coming from the Middle East have the earliest dates due to the logistical challenges of moving mail from far-flung outposts and the unpredictable nature of a war zone.

This holiday season could see more delays due to the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq and continuing troop reductions in Afghanistan. Many of the returning troops will ship personal belongings home through the mail, said Army Lt. Col. Edward Bayouth, Postal Operations Division chief of the 14th Human Resources Sustainment Center in Kuwait.

“There will be an exceptionally heavy volume of mail for those two locations this holiday season,” Bayouth said.

The U.S. and military postal services will stop processing mail to and from military post offices in Iraq starting Nov. 17 in light of the withdrawal there.

In general, there are four classes of mail to choose from when sending packages internationally. Space-Available Mail is the cheapest option, but it takes longer to get to its destination. SAM is followed in price by First Class, then Priority, up to the most expensive option, Express Mail. Military post offices in Iraq and Afghanistan do not offer Express-Mail service.

Priority is the most commonly used service among troops, according to Lionel Rivera, USAFE’s postal public affairs representative. Priority offers various sizes of envelopes and boxes at a fixed price, as long as the packages meet weight and size restrictions of 70 pounds and 108 inches. Measurements are calculated by adding the object’s length to its girth.

There are more than 500 military post offices in the world, and many overseas locations may extend business hours or open additional days during the holidays. Check with your installation post office for information on holiday hours.

Mail classes
• Express Mail Military Service: expedited delivery service. Not available from military post offices in Iraq and Afghanistan.
• First Class: used for items weighing less than or equal to 13 ounces. Flat-rate packaging available.
• Priority: weight limit of 70 pounds, length-girth limit of 108 inches. Flat-rate packaging available.
• Space-Available: weight limit of 70 pounds, length-girth limit of 130 inches on mail to the U.S.  Packages sent low priority take longer to reach destination.
• Parcel Airlift Service: limited to 30 pounds and a length-girth limit of 60 inches.
 
Extra services
• Certified mail: provides proof of mailing along with date and time of delivery or attempted delivery.
• Insured: coverage against loss or damage up to $5,000. Fee based on value of item.
• Registered: most secure service offered. Monitors movement of mail from beginning to end. Insurable up to $25,000. Fee based on value of item.
•Delivery confirmation: provides tracking number to see when item was delivered to address. Nominal fee of 70 cents.
• Other services: return receipt, signature confirmation, certificate of mailing, restricted delivery and others.
 
Hints and tips
• Take the time to wrap items correctly.
• Choose a sturdy box that’s appropriate for the size and weight of the item.
• Allow room for ample cushioning; use foam peanuts, Bubble Wrap, newspaper or shredded paper.
• Print names and addresses clearly on the package.
• Place an extra label with the shipping and return addresses inside the package in case the original labels get damaged. Also include an itemized list of contents.
• Use adequate amounts of tape to secure the opening and seams of the box.
• Write “fragile” or “perishable” on boxes, if appropriate.
 
Suggested mail-by dates from European Theater to U.S.:
Space-Available: Nov. 25
Parcel Airlift: Dec. 2
First Class/Priority: Dec. 9
Express Military Mail Service: Dec. 16
 
Suggested mail-by dates from Middle East Theater to U.S.:
Space-Available: Nov. 26
First Class/Priority: Dec. 3
 
Suggested mail-by dates from Pacific Theater to U.S.:
Korea
Space-Available: Dec. 3
Parcel Airlift: Dec. 3
First Class/Priority: Dec. 10
Express Military Mail Service: Dec. 17
 
Mainland Japan
Space-Available: Dec. 2
Parcel Airlift: Dec. 2
First Class/Priority: Dec. 9
Express Military Mail Service: 16 Dec.
 
Okinawa and Thailand
Space-Available Mail: Nov. 29
Parcel Airlift: Nov. 29
First Class/Priority: Dec. 6
Express Military Mail Service: Dec. 13
 
Australia
Space-Available: Nov. 25
Parcel Airlift: Dec. 2
First Class/Priority: Dec. 9
Express Military Mail Service: Dec. 16
 
MPSA mail-by recommendations from U.S. to overseas:
U.S. to Middle East (APO/FPO/DPO AE 093…)
Parcel Post: Nov. 12
Space-Available Mail: Nov. 26
Parcel Airlift: Dec. 1
First Class/Priority: Dec. 3
 
U.S. to all other military post offices
Parcel Post: Nov. 12
Space-Available: Nov. 26
Parcel Airlift: Dec. 3
First Class/Priority: Dec. 10
Express: Dec. 17
 

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