Postal paratroopers look to make big impact for US troops in Afghanistan
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 9, 2016
When a small group of 82nd Airborne Division soldiers arrives in Afghanistan next month, its members will start what they expect to be a quiet deployment.
That suits the soldiers with the 18th Human Resources Company, 82nd Special Troops battalion just fine. They are used to being behind the scenes.
But during their nine months supporting the Resolute Support mission, there may not be another unit with a bigger impact on morale for the roughly 10,000 U.S. troops that remain in Afghanistan.
The soldiers, part of the 82nd Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade, will operate several Army post offices and conduct mail delivery operations across the country.
That includes making regular trips, known as "postal rodeos," on helicopters to smaller forward operating bases to deliver packages and pick up outgoing mail.
The soldiers, many of whom returned from a similar deployment in the Middle East last year, said they know the importance of their coming mission.
"You can just see it in their faces," said Sgt. Stephany Sechrist, one of the approximately 25 soldiers set to deploy next month.
Sechrist said overseeing post offices in a deployed environment is a job that's often overlooked, even by other troops.
Sechrist, like most of the deploying troops, is with the company's 4th Platoon. This will be her third deployment and her second working a postal job.
On that first deployment, Sechrist admitted to taking the mail for granted.
But when she was deployed with the 18th Human Resources Company from July 2014 until April 2015, she learned the impact a simple delivery can have on those serving overseas.
"It's big," Sechrist said, explaining how she's seen some troops cry with joy. "It's a huge morale booster."
Spc. Taylor Riihl, who also was on the unit's last deployment, said there will be some similarities between the two tours of duty, but also very clear differences.
Last year, the soldiers served in four locations in four countries spread across the Middle East, including Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. In Afghanistan, the soldiers expect a more austere environment, among other changes.
"This time, there's more element of danger," Riihl said.
Capt. Tim Konze, the commander of the 18th Human Resources Company, said the soldiers have been preparing for the mission since October, conducting several field exercises that include combat training and field operations from aboard Black Hawk helicopters.
The unit is already unique, Konze said. It is the only company in the continental U.S. to run an Army post office, operating the one on Fort Bragg. It also is the only unit of its kind trained to operate aboard helicopters.
Those skills will come in handy in Afghanistan, where the company will look to increase mail deliveries to outlying bases from twice a month to at least three times a month, he said.
Those who are deploying are looking forward to it, Konze said. And they know their work provides a link to home.
"You can see it in their eyes," Konze said. "Everybody loves hearing from home."
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