Troops, families lament lag in mail delivery
April 20, 2003
UMM QASR, Iraq — The days are tedious for U.S. Army Sgt. Brian Mathias, especially without the love letters and care packages he expected from his wife back home in Minnesota.
Mathias, of the 13th Psychological Battalion, spends his days interviewing Iraqi prisoners at Camp Freddy, a POW camp about 50 miles inside the Iraqi border.
The work is often repetitive and, at times, frustrating. But all Mathias wants, he said, is a single letter from home, something the military postal system, so far, has not been able to deliver.
“I’ve been here over a month, and I have nothing,” Mathias said. “I know my wife’s writing, but I haven’t received a thing.”
Mathias’ gripe is repeated when other troops are asked about the delivery of mail, which, military officials admit, is one of the biggest morale boosters in the field.
Determining how well the mail system is working is difficult, but anecdotal evidence indicates something is wrong.
A lieutenant assigned to the Coalition Press Information Center in Kuwait City said a letter postmarked in early March just reached her this week.
Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Karen Grafton has been trying to get packages and letters to the 11th Aviation Regiment for more than a month and so far, she’s been told, nothing has gotten through.
Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick Bolzenius, of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, turned 21 last month. His mother sent a birthday card, addressed to his unit, six weeks ago. The letter, despite a correct address, was returned to her in Houston.
For two days, Stars and Stripes has tried to contact the officers in charge of mail delivery, but phone calls have not been returned.
Two days after the first bombs were dropped on Baghdad, Army Brig. Gen. Sean Byrne toured the Joint Mail Terminal in Kuwait City. He said more airplanes, better sorting facilities and a strategy to get letters to forward combat locations should eliminate the snafus that angered troops and their families during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Mail, noted Byrne, who oversees its delivery here in the desert, may be the second-most important moment of a soldier’s day, right behind chow.
The plan, Byrne explained, was to hold mail in large containers for forward-deployed troops and then transport it by truck as soon as the troops were stationary.
The plan hasn’t worked, according to Marine mom Lynne Denne. Denne said she has mailed at least three letters and one package each week since her son, a Marine who had been based at Camp Coyote in the Kuwait desert, landed here on Jan. 31.
She recently received a quickly-scrawled note dated March 18 from her son saying he had received just four letters and two packages.
“My heart had sunk,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I had mailed seven packages and 18 letters to that point.”
She is disappointed by the military and the U.S. Postal Service.
“I am not a happy taxpayer,” wrote Denne of Boise, Idaho. “The postal service is one of the most important support jobs in the military, and it isn’t working.”
Dianne Bolzenius, the mother of Patrick Bolzenius, is frustrated over the returned birthday card. She is frustrated because her son probably feels forgotten.
She is frustrated because she is supporting military personnel, but they don’t know she is supporting them.
“My son turned 21 alone in the desert and didn’t even get a birthday card from his parents,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I am now worried that the package I sent, and the ones other relatives sent to him for his birthday, will arrive back to us.”
Sending packages can be expensive, she added, with the cost reaching as much as $20 per parcel.
“It pains me to think what my son must be thinking about his family from whom he did not even get a card for his 21st birthday while serving his country at war,” she wrote. “Can you tell I am angry?”