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Staff Sgt. Paula Stephens, left, Lt. Gen. Charles Campbell and Capt. Mark Ripley sort mail Wednesday morning in the Yongsan Garrison post office.
Staff Sgt. Paula Stephens, left, Lt. Gen. Charles Campbell and Capt. Mark Ripley sort mail Wednesday morning in the Yongsan Garrison post office. (T.D. Flack / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — With only 72 hours left until “Operation Santa Claus” begins Saturday, the postal workers of the 516th Personnel Services Battalion got a little help delivering Santa’s presents early Wednesday morning.

Eighth Army Commander Lt. Gen. Charles Campbell, Command Sgt. Maj. Barry Wheeler and 19th Theater Support Command head Brig. Gen. Timothy P. McHale, decked out in bright red Santa hats, helped unload and sort mail from about 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. at the Yongsan post office.

It’s an annual event and one that the soldiers enjoy, said Spc. Tyler Watson, a three-year Army veteran.

“It’s great to see him come down here,” he said as Campbell helped unload boxes from a rolling bin. Watson said it’s nice to show the leaders the work that goes into ensuring the mail is delivered.

Gregory Mackessy, chief of Postal Operations at the 8th Army’s G-1, said postal workers across the peninsula do a great job during the holiday season, when the volume of mail spikes from roughly 1.2 million pounds to about 1.8 million pounds a month.

“They always perform magnificently,” he said.

He also said postal officials will run the annual “Operation Santa Claus,” a last-minute push to ensure all mail that arrives to Gimpo Airport by 3 p.m. Saturday makes it to the customers on Christmas Eve.

“It’s basically to make sure to the best our ability that every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine and their family members get their Christmas presents,” he said.

Capt. Mark Ripley, 516th PSB Company D commander, said a second “run of trucks” will transport mail from Gimpo on Saturday.

“We’ll bring the leadership in here” to work the late shift Saturday to give as many young troops as possible the time off to enjoy the holiday.

Campbell talked with many of those soldiers as they prepared to unload the truck.

“I’m hoping I get some mail,” because the tough year has left a bare tree in the Campbell household, he joked.

Wednesday’s load was light and the VIPs quickly helped move the mail onto to conveyor belts as Christmas carols played over the intercom system.

Before leaving, Campbell thanked the soldiers for their hard work.

While they “often toil without accolade,” he said, the soldiers should understand how important they are to the military community for serving as a bridge to friends and loved ones.

Watson said working a shift for “Operation Santa Claus” is worthwhile if he can help his fellow soldiers.

“Everyone likes to get a package on Christmas,” he said.

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