By Army Pfc. Michael Schuch
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 18, 2008 - When Patton's tanks rolled across North African desert sands, letters of encouragement, love and support from family back home connected 1st Armored Division soldiers to loved ones left behind. Today, in the heat of Iraq's deserts, mail continues to bridge the distance between "Iron Soldiers" and their families. Even in today's age of advanced technological communications, nothing compares to being able to hold a letter or open a package pieced together with affection by someone at home.
"Even though my wife and I are able to communicate almost daily via the internet, it still brightens my day to open a package from her," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Donald Johnson, deployed from Baumholder, Germany. "To know that her hands held this just days ago makes me feel that we are not so far apart."
It takes hours of work and numerous soldiers to get the mail from its origin to soldiers of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.
"On an average day, we bring in roughly 8,000 pounds of mail, sending out nearly 1,000 pounds from the soldiers," said Army Sgt. Lamond Jackson, of Los Angeles.
Soldiers serving in war zones are able to send letters to the U.S. free of charge.
Once a piece of mail is shipped to Iraq from anywhere in the United States, it is sent to a central facility in New York. Mail is next received and sorted by soldiers working at Baghdad International Airport. These soldiers then arrange for the mail to be and shipped by convoy to the appropriate base.
Every letter, parcel and package received by the mail handlers of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, is sorted into individual units, then, the office or group of each soldier, and finally, by the soldier's name. It takes each piece of mail an average of five to 10 days to travel from origin to destination, passing through several checkpoints and countless soldiers along the way.
Before the mail passes into the hands of its intended soldier, it goes through the final link in the chain, the unit mail clerk. The unit mail clerk is solely responsible for ensuring that each package is intact, protected and delivered to the correct soldier.
"Being the mail clerk is a big responsibility, because mail is really important for our soldiers," said Army Pfc. Courtney Flaherty, of Pacific, Mass. "I really enjoy being able to perform this job."
No matter what soldiers may encounter during any given day, a little piece of home provides meaning to the sacrifices they make. "Mail is the sole thing I look forward to each day. I love it," said Army Cpl. John Wilson, of New York City. "Just knowing that someone special took the time and effort to write to me makes all this worthwhile."
(Army Pfc. Michael Schuch is assigned to the Public Affairs Office of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.)