Postal officials offer holiday 'mail-by' dates
Stars and Stripes October 31, 2012
WIESBADEN, Germany - Plan ahead and ship early. That's the advice postal officials are giving those hoping to send holiday gifts to or from military and diplomatic post offices worldwide.
To help customers avoid being put on Santa's - or loved ones' - naughty list, the Military Postal Service Agency and the U.S. Postal Service have recommended holiday mail-by dates, though they caution that the dates do not guarantee delivery by Christmas.
Kim Leach, chief of the U.S. Central Command's Postal Service Branch, whose area of responsibility includes Afghanistan, advises customers at remote sites, such as small forward operating bases, to mail articles ahead of the recommended deadlines.
William Kiser, U.S. European Command theater postal officer, said the best time to mail holiday items in Europe is early November, when the cost of shipping is cheaper and the post office lines are shorter.
Last holiday season, the European theater received 10.7 million pounds of mail and dispatched 4.1 million pounds, said Kiser, who expects a decline of 4 percent to 5 percent from last year because of force reductions.
In Europe, recent security requirements have meant increased scrutiny of mail moving on commercial passenger aircraft. Military mail isn't exempt, as about 99 percent of outbound military mail and 94 percent of inbound mail moves in and out of Europe on commercial passenger aircraft.
"Due to this increased security activity, customers should be careful about mailing only authorized items and list all contents properly on customs forms so that accepting clerks can advise and assist customers," Kiser advised.
Some of the more common items patrons would like to mail, but aren't allowed to, include: alcohol (wines and spirits), alcohol-filled candy, foodstuffs of animal or plant origin, meat products - including dried and canned meats - and foods containing nonedible items, for example, Kinder eggs, those popular chocolate eggs with a toy inside.
More information on banned items is available in the International Mail Manual, which breaks down prohibited items by country, at http://pe.usps.gov/text/imm/welcome.htm. A list of CENTCOM-specific restrictions is in CENTCOM Regulation 25-103.
Although lithium battery shipment is already prohibited by the USPS between stateside and international locations, customers are also advised not to mail items with an alkaline battery installed, because the article might start operating. Officials say even greeting cards with electronic greetings or music have delayed the mail when they started making noise.
Kiser added that mailing toy or replica weapons isn't advisable.
Postal officials say that wrapping gifts before mailing won't create a problem.
"A good rule to follow is to include the destination address and your return address separately inside the parcel," Kiser said.
Local commanders determine what measures to take at individual post offices to prepare for the holiday rush. Some areas are hiring additional personnel and seeking volunteers. Others may use borrowed military manpower, stock extra postal supplies, increase transportation assets or open more days and hours. In Europe, postal employee leave during the holiday season is discouraged and normally only granted for emergencies.
The timetable ...Suggested mail-by dates for APO and FPO addresses and diplomatic post office addresses:
Parcel post: Nov. 13 (all locations)
Space-available (SAM): Nov. 26 (All locations). Parcels are paid at parcel post prices with maximum weight and size limits of 15 pounds and 60 inches in length and girth combined. Parcels are first transported domestically by surface and then to overseas destinations by air on a space-available basis.
Parcel airlift (PAL): Dec. 3 for most locations, Nov. 30 for ZIP codes AE 093. Parcel airlift provides air transportation on a space-available basis and is for parcel post items not exceeding 30 pounds in weight AND 60 inches in length and girth combined. The applicable PAL fee must be paid in addition to the regular surface rate of postage for each addressed piece sent by PAL.
First class/priority: Dec. 10 for most locations, Dec. 3 for AE 093
Express military mail service: Dec. 17. Available at select military and diplomatic post offices. Check with the local post office to determine availability.
Most USPS special services, such as certified mail, registered mail, insured mail, certificate of mailing, return receipt, restricted delivery and return receipt for merchandise are available in the military postal service. Collect on delivery (COD) and signature confirmation are not available.