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ARLINGTON, Va. — Got gifts?

Send early, often and in smaller packages in order to get presents to their intended recipients on time for the holiday season, said Mark DeDomenic, chief of Operations for the Military Postal Service Agency.

“The thing I stress … is mail early. The earlier you make it, the better,” DeDomenic said. “Mail early and mail small packages rather than large boxes. … Generally speaking, smaller packages move through faster because they’re easier to handle.”

At the latest, packages being sent to or from military addresses should be at the post office by Nov. 13. First-class letters and cards should be out the door no later than Dec. 11, according to recommendations by the United States Postal Service.

In spite of the high number of troops deployed to the Middle East, no special plans are in the works this holiday mailing season. If there is a need for more mail handlers, “local commanders will make that decision based on assignment and need. We don’t dictate that from here,” he said in a phone interview from his Alexandria, Va., office.

Though detailing on customs forms what exactly is inside a package might ruin the surprise, it’s a necessity for security reasons. “People like to put ‘gifts,’ and that’s not acceptable. They need to be specific about what’s in the package.”

A soldier deployed in Iraq recently wrote a letter to Stars and Stripes to say a package from her mother with a customs slip that listed 1 DVD player contained no DVD.

“There are safeguards in the system, but realistically, you’re always going to have some pilferage,” DeDomenic said.

Another tip: Use strong boxes, tape well, and make sure the recipients’ addresses are correct and written clearly, said DeDomenic, a retired sailor who has spent 27 years with the military postal service.

“Think about how far it has to go and how many times it will be handled,” he said. “Think about a strong box. And I always recommend nylon-reinforced tape. And use good packing materials like Styrofoam popcorn or newspaper, something that will withstand the transport.”

What not to send?

Well, the obvious such as perishable foods, flammables, weapons, bombs, animals.

Not so obvious — perfume, he said: the alcohol could make the product flammable. He recommends a gift certificate instead.

With some shipments that go by sea and land, packages can take days, maybe even a month or so, to get to their destinations. Keep that in mind when sending cookies, for example, he joked.

“I always recommend sending cookies in a coffee can individually wrapped with paper towel to keep them fresh and from crumbling.”

Military mail Christmas dates

To ensure delivery of Christmas cards and packages by Dec. 25 to military APO/FPO addresses overseas, the United States Postal Service recommends that mail be sent by the following dates:

Military mail addressed to:

First-Class

Mail

Letters/Cards

Priority

Mail Parcel

Airlift

Mail

(PAL)1 Space

Available

Mail

(SAM)2 Parcel

Post

APO/FPO AE ZIPS 090-099 Dec. 11 Dec. 11 Dec. 4 Nov. 28 Nov. 13

APO/FPO AE ZIPS 340 Dec. 11 Dec. 11 Dec. 4 Nov. 28 Nov. 13

APO/FPO AE ZIPS 962-966 Dec. 11 Dec. 11 Dec. 4 Nov. 28 Nov. 13

1 PAL: A special service that provides air transportation for parcels on a space-available basis. PAL is available for Parcel Post not exceeding 30 pounds in weight or 60 inches in length and girth combined. The applicable PAL fee must be paid in addition to the regular surface rate of postage for each addressed piece sent by PAL service.

2 SAM: Parcels paid at Parcel Post postage rates are first transported domestically by surface and then to overseas destinations by air on a space-available basis. The maximum weight and size limits are 15 pounds in weight and 60 inches in length and girth combined.

SOURCE: USPS

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