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George Cortes, left, and Spc. Marcus Laino unload mail from a truck Wednesday at the Leighton Barracks community mailroom in Würzburg, Germany.
George Cortes, left, and Spc. Marcus Laino unload mail from a truck Wednesday at the Leighton Barracks community mailroom in Würzburg, Germany. (Steve Liewer / S&S)
George Cortes, left, and Spc. Marcus Laino unload mail from a truck Wednesday at the Leighton Barracks community mailroom in Würzburg, Germany.
George Cortes, left, and Spc. Marcus Laino unload mail from a truck Wednesday at the Leighton Barracks community mailroom in Würzburg, Germany. (Steve Liewer / S&S)
A green sign on a community mailroom post office box at Würzburg, Germany, means mail gets forwarded, said Mark Altherr, the mailroom supervisor.
A green sign on a community mailroom post office box at Würzburg, Germany, means mail gets forwarded, said Mark Altherr, the mailroom supervisor. (Steve Liewer / S&S)

WüRZBURG, Germany — For Mark Altherr and the folks in the Leighton Barracks community mail room, the long holiday crunch has just begun.

Besides the annual avalanche of Christmas packages, the Leighton mail room has been getting dozens of bulky black footlockers full of gear that troops in Iraq are shipping back as the Würzburg-based 1st Infantry Division and 67th Combat Support Hospital prepare to return to Germany.

The holiday bundles may decline after this weekend, but Altherr, the chief mail clerk, expects extra packages from Iraq to more than make up for the difference. The same will hold true at other bases heavily populated with returning 1st ID troops in places like Kitzingen, Schweinfurt, Bamberg, Katterbach and Vilseck.

“At least through March, we’ll probably have as much [mail] as we normally have at Christmas,” Altherr said.

The yearlong deployment, which began last February, has enormously complicated mail service. When the troops are home, the job is straightforward: handle the incoming mail, and hand it out to customers.

Now it’s more complex. Some incoming mail must be forwarded to deployed soldiers, while other mail is shipped to families in the States. Some is held in the mail room’s little backshop area. As the Middle East tour nears its end, more packages are coming in from both Iraq and the United States, too, as soldiers and families ship goods back home.

For some of the 11 civilians and three soldiers working in the mail room, getting the mail to and from Iraq is more than a job. It’s personal.

Four of them — Altherr, Duane Warnke, George Cortes and Cammie McDonald — have spouses serving downrange.

“Everything is close to home for me. Every letter belongs to a person,” said Altherr, whose wife, Maj. Catherine Altherr, works on the 2nd Brigade staff.

“They’re not here, but they’re not forgotten.”

Through it all, they maintain a dogged good cheer that is far from the surly stereotype of postal workers. On Christmas Eve, they plan to stay open into the evening until all customers who want to have picked up their packages.

“I have never dealt with a post office where every single person behind the counter is so nice,” said Deborah Davis, a military wife for 18 years. “They help you take your packages out to the car. And you don’t have to ask.”

Some of the new workers signed up because they heard the mail room was a fun place to work.

“I come in half an hour early every day. The atmosphere is great,” said Garrison Pollard, who joined the staff in November.

“It’s probably been the best part of my deployment,” said Sgt. Heather Lopez, an Army reservist who has served the last three months of a one-year Germany tour in the mail room. “Everybody works really hard and gets the job done.”

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