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Snail mail going to people deployed to Afghanistan could flow a little quicker starting next month.

The U.S. Army is spending $500,000 to launch HooahMail, a service starting Dec. 1 in which family and friends can send letters electronically to anyone serving in Afghanistan, Bill Hilsher, the Army’s postal program manager, said.

Participants can register immediately online to have some personal letters delivered in as little as 24 hours — a far cry from the roughly 14 days it now can take, Hilsher said. And it’s free.

Here’s how it works: Family and friends set up an account via and enter the recipient’s information and downrange mailing address. With the push of the “send” button, encrypted letters are sent to the servers of designated machines in one of 10 locations in Afghanistan. At least once a day, Army postal clerks switch on the machines, which print, fold and seal the letters in addressed envelopes for delivery through the in-country military postal system.

“At no time while the postal soldier is downloading the message can the message be read,” ensuring privacy, Hilsher said. Writers can also send one photograph, which will be printed in black and white.

The machines, at 220-pounds, can be airdropped to any site. They will be placed at Bagram and Kandahar air fields, and the remote outposts of Forward Operating Bases Najil, Mace, Zio Haq, Carwile, Sweeney and Bushmaster. Two more will be placed at bases yet to be determined.

Apart from the main hubs of Bagram and Kandahar, Army officials selected the bases where troops were “having the most difficulty getting traditional mail, or FOBS that don’t have Internet cafes or only one or two Internet connections … used for missions only,” Hilsher said.

The system could reduce delivery time in some cases from two weeks to same- or next-day service, with an average of four days to all other locations in Afghanistan, said Lt. Col. Charles Moose, spokesman for U.S. Army Human Resources Command.

The Army’s HooahMail follows a similar program, called MotoMail (short for Motivational Mail), which the U.S. Marine Corps started in 2004 for its servicemembers deployed to Iraq.

Hilsher couldn’t say why it’s taken the Army so long to follow suit, other than to say that the Army’s program has been in the planning stages for two years.

“The Army is much larger with a lot more troops,” Hilsher said. “We’re coming onboard with it now.”

There are no plans to introduce the service for Army troops in Iraq.

HooahMail is a one-way service from family and friends to soldiers, Moose said. Troops in Afghanistan won’t be able to use the system to send letters home.

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