Improvements in mail delivery to Iraq hailed
May 11, 2004
NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — Joe Britton just wanted to help his nephew in Iraq by sending him some care packages.
But since Britton started mailing boxes in February, Spc. Charles Milliken has received only one of them. Both are starting to lose hope that the other three — stuffed with toothbrushes, shaving cream and snacks — will ever make it.
“The sad thing is it’s what him and the guys around him need,” said Britton by telephone from his home in Quitman, Texas.
Mail is a huge morale booster for troops on the front lines, but a General Accounting Office report released last month said its delivery to troops in Iraq and Kuwait could be much better.
Although the military has tried to fix problems from the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the GAO reported that many of the same problems have plagued mail delivery.
Defense Department statistics showed that the average time for a letter or parcel to reach the region fell between 11 and 14 days, which is within the wartime standard of 12 to 18 days. But the study found it could take several days longer for mail to get to many soldiers.
The federal watchdog agency was directed to review mail delivery to troops stationed in the Middle East after Congress and the White House forwarded more than 300 complaints about delivery problems.
More than half of the soldiers and Marines surveyed by the GAO, who served in the Persian Gulf, were dissatisfied with mail delivery. Many waited four weeks or longer to get mail and said the poor delivery and delays had a “negative impact” on the morale of deployed troops.
Military postal officials said the high number of parcels and large packages sent to the troops from generous Americans and early logistical problems were among the main reasons for the delays.
“Obviously the volumes were out of sight,” said Edward A. Pardini, deputy director of the Military Postal Service Agency.
More than 95 percent of the mail was parcel, a much higher portion than past wars, postal officials said. Which, of course, takes up more space on aircraft and so forth,” said Mark DeDomenic, assistant deputy director and chief of operations of the Military Postal Service Agency.
The absence of commercial traffic in and out of Iraq has forced the military to rely on military aircraft and charter planes to haul most of the mail. Attacks on ground convoys also have made it difficult to get mail to far-flung camps.
But the GAO said other issues also led to delays between August 2003 and March 2004, when the agency conducted the review. Postal personnel were not adequately trained and they didn’t have enough of the right equipment to move large parcels. The GAO recommended that the military establish a system to accurately track and report transit times and to appoint someone to ensure that the services work together.
Postal officials said that improvements already are making a difference, and some soldiers who spent a year in Iraq agree.
Cpl. Matthew Houghtelin, 20, Headquarters, Headquarters and Operations Company 104, Military Intelligence, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, said it would take months to get a letter early during the war. But toward the end of his tour, it took only a week to get some packages. “I mean, I got a package in eight days one time,” Houghtelin said.
Pvt. Denver McDonald, 18, of the 588th Engineers, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, had no complaints. “Hey, mail is free,” he said.