By Spc. Gregory Argentieri, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 25, 2007 - Soldiers from 458th Adjutant General Postal Company stationed here run the central mail hub for the entire Task Force Bayonet area of operations and are responsible for handling, sorting, and processing all incoming and outgoing letters and packages through Jalalabad, Afghanistan, for thousands of soldiers. The holiday season began early for the military postal service on Forward Operating Base Fenty. At the beginning of November, the number of packages and letters being handled tripled and was expected to peak during the days surrounding Christmas. Officials expect the rush continue through the end of January.
Mail before the holidays was averaging 3,000-4,000 pounds a day. The mail increased to between 8,000-13,000 pounds a day since November, officials said.
"Santa Claus is the little white planes, and we are the elves," said Army Spc. Tanya M. Runnels, from Jasper, Texas, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 173rd Brigade Support Battalion (Airborne), and part of the FOB Fenty postal team. "We're working our butts off to make sure the mail gets out to the soldiers. It's important; it's Christmas time. That is our job; we're the mail people."
"We get to supply the mail for all the 'Joes' out there, the guys who are really fighting the war. It's good stuff, and it makes us feel good," said Army Sgt. Brian R. Boss, from Valliant, Okla., of the 458th Adjutant General Postal Company. "Since arriving at FOB Fenty in February, the 458th has personally handled, carried, either loading and unloading planes, or loading and unloading helicopters, 900,000-950,000 pounds of mail. Before our deployment is over in February, we will have moved more than 1 million pounds of mail."
Soldiers from FOB Torkham convoy two hours to FOB Fenty to pick up mail and supplies, and pick up or drop off soldiers three times a week.
"The mail means a lot since we're away from our families," said Spc. Jonathan S. Morgan, 21, from Sissonville, W.Va., of the 66th Military Police Company, based at FOB Torkham. "The first things the 'Joes' do when they see our trucks come back, is they come running."
The small, seven soldier FOB Fenty mail team maintains a post office that is open every day for its soldiers. These same soldiers also travel to every forward operating base and outpost at least once a month setting up fully functional mobile post offices that operate for several days before traveling to their next location.
Boss called three soldiers – Army Spcs. Miquel Chiqui, Isaac Lopez and Jose Silva -- "the big three" for conducting mail missions. "They fly or convoy to nine or 10 different FOBs to do missions to support the 'Joes' out there," he said. "They're the ones that come as close as mail personnel come to putting it on the line for the 'Joes.'"
Lopez, from Bloomington, Minn., of the 147th Personnel Support Battalion and a part of the FOB Fenty postal team, said the biggest challenge of his job involves working long hours from airplanes arriving late with mail due to bad weather. Sometimes the challenge is trying to read the handwriting on the letters and packages, but he stresses the most important thing is making sure everybody gets their mail.
Army Pfc. Robert J. Logan III from Baltimore, a parachute rigger with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, said he always has "outstanding service" from the mail teams. "They go above and beyond their call of duty; it's always an A-plus positive experience. My hat is off to them."
Recently the mail has suffered delays at Bagram Air Base due to bad weather, with mail falling three to four days behind schedule. Boss refers to Bagram as the fish bowl because it sits surrounded by mountains. All mail arriving in Afghanistan arrives there.
"Bad weather comes to the fish-bowl and sits there, so every two to three days there's weather problems causing delays, with late or canceled flights," Boss said.
But mail during the holidays is more important than normal, and extra efforts were made to get Christmas mail to Task Force Bayonet soldiers.
Company A, 173rd Brigade Support Battalion, took a holiday break from their normal mission of running ammo and instead delivered 22,500 pounds of Christmas morale for soldiers. Company A arrived at FOB Fenty on Dec. 23 with two 20-foot heaping containers, several 5-ton trucks, and a few "jingle trucks" full of Christmas mail.
"We ran a convoy down to Bagram to bring back the mail; I guess we were actually the reindeer bringing the Christmas presents over the mountains," said Army Staff Sgt. Fred Fortune, from Philadelphia, a member of Company A. "We called this mission Operation Santa Claus."
Once the mail arrived at Fenty, helicopters and other combat logistics patrols immediately took the mail tp outlying forward operating bases in the TF Bayonet area of operations to make sure all Bayonet soldiers got their mail by Christmas.
(Army Spc. Gregory Argentieri is assigned to 173rd Airborne Brigade Combtat Team Public Affairs.)