YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — For U.S. personnel stationed overseas, the Military Postal System provides a useful alternative to the U.S. Postal Service.

Operating as an internal Department of Defense system, MPS is used to send correspondence between overseas installations at no cost to the customer, said Senior Master Sgt. Kenneth Bourns, the Yokota Post Office’s postmaster.

However, there are certain limitations to keep in mind when using MPS, he said.

MPS delivers items at the same speed as sending a package through the regular postal system. However, an MPS package cannot enter the USPS mail stream at any time, Bourns said. This means that a spouse living in Japan can send a package to their loved one deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, but not if they were on assignment in Hawaii or California.

Anyone under the status of forces agreement can use MPS, said Bourns, adding that retirees in Japan without SOFA status are not eligible to use the system. This restriction varies from country to country, Bourns said.

Another restriction to using MPS is customers cannot ship personal property to an installation in connection with a permanent change of station or temporary-duty move. With so many servicemembers living overseas, Bourns said, that policy was instituted in 2002 to prevent the system from being bogged down.

While the price of shipping MPS can’t be beat, Bourns warned that it’s not always the best way to ship.

“Oftentimes I see family members sending care packages with MP3 players and other high-value items to their loved ones who are downrange,” he said. “When mailing these types of items, I suggest that it is better to pay the postage and have the items insured.”

MPS mail is not tracked like regular mail — and if something is lost in the system, there is no way to track the item or compensate the customer, he said.

U.S. system gives breaks, too

You can’t use MPS to ship personal property connected with a permanent change of station or a temporary-duty move, but that doesn’t mean you can’t catch a break, according to Senior Master Sgt. Kenneth Bourns, Yokota Air Base’s postmaster.

When shipping your items via the U.S. Postal Service, include a copy of your PCS orders in the package. The post office then can stamp the parcel to let customs agents know that it is being mailed as part of a PCS move.

This prevents the customer from being charged any duty fees on the items, Bourns said.

— Bryce S. Dubee

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