CAMP TAJI, Iraq, March 16, 2015 -- Even in a time of constant digital communication - an age of Twitter, Facebook and Skype - there remains something special for deployed soldiers about a tangible letter or package sent by loved ones halfway around the world.
For those service members deployed with Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command - Iraq, or CJFLCC-I, postal operations have been a challenge since soldiers began arriving in the country late last year. There is not nearly the kind of postal infrastructure in Iraq that existed when U.S. forces were last in Iraq in great numbers. However, through a combination of creativity and determination, things have steadily improved.
"Mail frequency is demanded at all levels of the military," said Maj. Jon Hermesch, the deputy personnel officer with the 1st Infantry Division and CJFLCC-I. "As we progress during the digital age of email and video communications, the simple act of receiving an actual letter is difficult to measure, but we know it is of great importance for communication purposes, and it also enables service members to acquire many items that they do not have access to at their current location."
Mail is transported to Iraq via aircraft from a regional hub in Kuwait. Given the high operational demand on those aircraft to move things like life support supplies and additional personnel, the amount of space left over for mail can be minimal.
"As CJFLCC-I establishes new bases and expands existing ones, many items are needed there that bump postal off [aircraft]," Hermesch said. "However, through dedicated leaders and continuous monitoring, we have been able to push mail regularly."
Another constraint is tight limits on force manning levels, which means there aren't as many trained personnel dedicated to postal operations in theater as there were during the years of a much greater U.S. troop presence in Iraq.
"During [Operation Iraqi Freedom], we could push postal units to every location," Hermesch said. "This limited number of positions forces us to think smarter on how we accomplish the same mission without putting more boots on ground."
One of the few postal noncommissioned officers in Iraq, Sgt. Alana Abraham, said things are steadily improving.
"In the last few weeks, the mail has improved quite a bit," said Abraham, an Austin, Texas, native, who is in charge of postal operations at Camp Taji, which is near Baghdad. "We've received mail three weeks in a row, which, in turn, improved the morale of the American troops on ground here."
The division has mail offices in Iraq at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, the Baghdad Embassy Complex, Camp Taji and in Erbil, as well as a location at Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
"It's about getting the Soldiers a little bit of home in a box," said Lt. Col. Greg Johnson, personnel officer with the 1st Infantry Division. "It's important for service members' resiliency and for them to understand that all those back home support what we are doing over here, and it also says the chain of command cares."