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Tech. Sgt. Andrew Dapkins, custodian of postal effects for the 35th Communications Squadron, helps a customer at the Misawa Post Office’s finance window Tuesday afternoon. The post office is almost fully staffed again after being without several personnel this spring and summer.

Tech. Sgt. Andrew Dapkins, custodian of postal effects for the 35th Communications Squadron, helps a customer at the Misawa Post Office’s finance window Tuesday afternoon. The post office is almost fully staffed again after being without several personnel this spring and summer. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — After enduring a rocky spring and early summer, when factors including deployments, leave and permanent-changes-of-station reduced available manning to about 52 percent, Misawa’s post office is almost fully-staffed again, according to the postmaster.

“Now we’re caught up because we have the bodies,” said Master Sgt. Alfred Wilhite, noting manpower is up to 87 percent with a few more inbound personnel on the way.

But the post office still needs volunteers, he said, as Misawa is one of Pacific Air Forces’s busiest mail distribution centers.

The post office on average processes about 3.5 million pieces of incoming and outgoing parcels annually. Due to northern Japan’s isolation and limited retail opportunities, Internet shopping on Misawa is huge, Wilhite said. “You get all kinds of mail orders that come through this base,” he said.

The number of authorized postal clerks, however, currently is based on population size. So while on paper the post office is fully manned, it could use more workers, he said.

That’s where volunteers step in.

The post office staff comprises about 27 military personnel and four Japanese civilians, while 20 to 25 volunteers may pitch in during a week, Wilhite said. But those numbers vary. “We may have eight or 10 in one day and sometimes there’s nobody for weeks,” said one worker.

While military-run post offices commonly have volunteer programs, Wilhite said, nonpaid workers at Misawa help keep the mission going. High school students volunteer through the base summer-hire program, he said, as do civilians, spouses, noncommissioned officers and young airmen from Airmen Leadership School and First Term Airmen Center. “Especially with deployments and all the other stuff going on, without those guys we would feel the brunt,” he said.

Volunteers set their own hours, typically working from two to three hours per shift. They are trained to work the parcel pickup window, pitch letters, break down incoming mail and account for insured packages. Defense Department regulations prohibit volunteers from handling money transactions or registered mail. “You must be a legitimate postal clerk to work the finance window,” Wilhite said.

The training can be used at almost any U.S. postal facility. “We’ve had a few people springboard … to postal jobs in the States,” Wilhite said.

While Misawa’s post office always seeks volunteers, he said, he expects the base to be allowed more authorized postal workers in the future. The manning standard has changed and now is based on volume of processed mail, not the number of customers. Wilhite said he doesn’t know when the changes will be made — “it’s a money thing,” — but “we’ll gain here.”

Meanwhile, customers mailing packages Tuesday afternoon seemed happy with the post office. “They’re doing a good job,” said Staff Sgt. Damon Smith with 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron. “I can’t complain.”

Said military spouse Octavia Dabbs: “I always come in when I know it’s not lunchtime so I’m sure that helps.”

How to save time, avoid lines

While staffing is returning to normal levels at the base post office, the postmaster, Master Sgt. Alfred Wilhite, says parcel pickup and the finance window should continue to be busy through the permanent-change-of-station season, which typically slows in September.

To save time and avoid lines, Wilhite suggests customers make an appointment to mail five or more parcels. “We can get you first thing in the morning at 9:15 before the post office opens,” he said. “We don’t have too many customers who use that.”

Call DSN 226-9325 to set up a time.

Also try to avoid the parcel pickup and finance sections during lunchtime, usually from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wilhite said. Parcel pickup also is busy after the duty day, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Another time-saver is a new service geared toward shift workers but available to all postal customers. People can sign up to receive small packages too big for one’s postal box in one of 48 lockers set up in the post office lobby. A key would be placed in the box with directions on which locker to use; the key is returned automatically to the locker. Sign up for the service at the post office’s customer service desk.

— Jennifer H. Svan

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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