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NEWS | March 2, 2023

You've got mail: Mail handlers of JTF MED 374

By Capt. Brandon Janson 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support)

While we may never agree on which football team is best, if coffee should be enjoyed black or with cream, or if is acceptable to drive in the fast lane at the posted speed limit, it is safe to say everyone likes sending and receiving mail. There is just something about seeing your name on an envelope or a package and looking to see who sent it and what's inside. While receiving mail, in general, can give a boost to anyone's day, receiving overseas mail from home hits just a little differently. 

To ensure the mail gets where it's supposed to, Soldiers of Task Force Med 374 and facility postal workers are doing their part. Twice a week, Task Force mail handlers and assigned U.S. Army Postal workers sort the mail. Each member of the team to include Staff Sgt. Brian De La Fuente, Sgt. Amanda Kuchinski, and Capt. Shannon Bigelow to name a few, meet at the post office to pick up the mail and begin the sorting process. 
"First, we just lay out all the mail and number everything, so it can be scanned," said Kuchinski . "Then we load everything up and reorganize everything at the CONEX [container-express] where we hand everything out. Everyone is super happy when they come to pick up their mail. I think our largest delivery was will like 250 packages at one time, which was around Christmas time. Handing out the mail is super rewarding; it makes me feel like I am Santa's little helper."  
So far, the Task Force Med 374 mail crew has assisted in the sorting and delivering over 5,100 packages in total. According to Sgt. 1st Class Peggy Robertson, facility postal worker, the mail room for the entire facility receives over 1,900 to 2,500 pounds of mail every two weeks. This total amount of mail is actually on the lighter side when comparing to other locations in theater that average closer to 8,500 pounds per week, according to Robertson.

To reach the Middle east, every piece of mail must travel roughly 7,000 miles to reach its destination. Along the way, things inevitably happen, and packages do not arrive the way they were intended. 
"Sometimes packages get damaged," said Kuchinski . "During transport, things can move around and cause some things leak out. We have found packages where liquids leak out and another time, someone's protein powder opened up and got everywhere. You could smell it when we were sorting the mail that day." 
While no one wants to receive damaged parcels, an ongoing joke for the mail group are "winners of the week" where pictures of the damaged boxes are snapped and then included in the hospital texting chat group.
"Every once in a while, we get these packages that have been crushed during transportation," said Staff Sgt. Brian De La Fuente. "So, I started taking pictures and having fun with it. I was just trying to turn a negative into a positive. I think we have been fortunate to never had to pick up the mail when it's storming, which means we haven't had any packages damaged that way."  
"Receiving is mail always a positive. It kind of breaks the week up, and Soldiers look forward to it," he said. "Care packages are fun because they are kind of a surprise, and you don't know what everyone back home sent. One of the care packages I received was a live recording of Mariah Carey playing at Madison Square Garden. The Chicago Bears also sent us a care package with Bears memorabilia. But my favorite item was from my mother-in-law, who sent me an egg boiler and a rice cooker. I use it all the time. Handing out the mail is super rewarding, and our team is always willing to hand out mail even after hours so that Soldiers can get their mail.”  
While most everyone looks forward to receiving mail, overseas deployments are not what they used to be with the internet and digital communication now readily available to Soldiers. With these advances come inevitable changes. 
"Technology has made the deployment a lot easier" said Bigelow, OR RN and mother. "While not every site has the same capabilities as our site, it has made the deployment a lot more comfortable."
Due to the availability of reliable internet, nowhere near the speed we have become accustomed to in the states, Bigelow has been able to keep in touch with her family back home, face-timing her child each night and even remotely linking into Hockey practice each week. While she has embraced the updated technology, she has not abandoned traditional letter writing and sending snail mail. She also extended her communication overseas with her children's school, who have written the Task Force thanking them for their service and wishing them a safe return. 
"I still send cards out for the holidays and write to my child," she said. "When I was young, I used to have a pen pal and remembered how much I enjoyed learning and writing to someone from another country. Snail mail takes time to write and send and is much more personal. You have to put time into it, and it is a fun way to show that you care. Mail is also fun to send without telling the person you are sending it, and it ends up being a surprise." 
Sgt. Kuchinski also pointed out the noticeable change of technology in comparison to her first deployment to Iraq. 
"It is completely different than my first deployment, said Kuchinski . "We were able to call back home and send messages, but not on our personal phones. We had to wait in long lines to use the phone booths with calling cards to call home and relied more on snail mail. Having our personal phones has been different. Even when going through basic and AIT you relied more on the mail. But you did not want to be the one to get the care package of junk food during mail call. There would always be that one guy that would get a bunch of candy, and then everyone would get punished by getting smoked. I got one from my parents once, and I told them never to do that again," she laughed.   
In a continued effort to show their appreciation and support for the troops and lift their spirits, a number of faith-based groups, Veterans organizations, Elementary Schools, and Non-for profits have been sending packages to the troops of Task Force Med 374 throughout the deployment. So many packages have been sent that they had to be opened and reorganized. Some of the packages were then added to the American Red Cross inventory, community hospital areas and even forwarded to other units in theater.