Many still trying to mail restricted items home from Middle East
December 3, 2003
Military and civilian personnel continue to place restricted items into packages mailed home from Operation Iraqi/Enduring Freedom, according to Col. Donald Kennedy, commander of the 3rd Personnel Command.
“We have a huge problem with folks trying to send expended and unexpended ordnance, bayonets, U.S. tools, unit equipment and captured Iraqi equipment,” Kennedy said.
All parcels are inspected by a mail clerk at the camp post office before being accepted for mailing. Postal patrons must also complete a customs form and a declaration pertaining to the contents of parcels being mailed. Additionally, parcels are subject to X-raying at several points en route to their destination, said Lt. Col. Robert Howard, director of Postal Operations for 3rd PERSCOM.
Consequences for sending restricted items can be severe, depending on what was sent and whether damage was caused. This may include Uniform Code of Military Justice action that could permanently damage a military career and result in fines, reduction in grade or imprisonment, Howard said.
According to U.S. Central Command, U.S. Postal Service and Department of Defense policies, “any article, composition, or material is nonmailable if it can kill or injure another, injure the mail or other property.”
Harmful matter includes, but is not limited to, poisons, poisonous animals, diseases, germs, explosives, flammables, infernal machines, chemicals and other items that may ignite or explode.
Some “war trophies” — defined as “enemy weapons, ammunition, explosives or items of equipment” — are “nonmailable.” Items such as live rounds, pistols, machine guns, weapons magazines and anti-personnel mines fall into this category, Howard said.
War trophies that clearly pose no health risk, such as flags, uniforms, photos and medals that were captured or found abandoned and do not dishonor the dead or result in improper or illegal conduct can be mailed, according to CENTCOM policy.
Cigarette lighters, aerosol cans, pornographic matter, sand and/or soil from outside the United States, and pork products are common examples of nonmailable items listed by CENTCOM. Current policy also prohibits mailing all bayonets, knives, sharp objects and U.S. military equipment, including duffel/sea bags and rucksacks.
Batteries are now discouraged from being sent, Howard added. Over summer in theater, several fires, thought to have been caused by exploding batteries, started spontaneously in pallets of packages sitting in temperatures as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
In Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, alcohol and pornography are prohibited in the mail as they are illegal to possess in many countries in the CENTCOM area of responsibility.
“If you have something and you are not sure whether it is mailable or nonmailable, it would be wise to ask the clerk inspecting the packages at the APO [Army post office],” Howard said.
Postal patrons should let people and organizations that may mail packages into the Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom theater know about official mailing policy and guidelines, Howard said.
“It’s a good idea to let folks back home know which items are prohibited. The risk of injury or worse is the same whether it’s inbound or outbound mail,” Howard said.
Nate Orme is a public affairs officer with the 3rd Personnel Command in Iraq.