CAMP EDSON, AD DIWANIYAH, Iraq -- Think you had a lot of mail built up the last time you returned from a two-week vacation? Picture a similar situation for the deployed Marines and sailors in Iraq, but multiply the amount of mail by about 25,000 times.
The ten Postal Marines here at Camp Edson have delivered over 145 20-foot containers full of mail over the past three weeks in a massive effort to get packages and letters to the nearly 25,000 Marines they support in the 1st Marine Division and 1st Force Service Support Group throughout Iraq.
If you laid out all the mail, it would fill an entire football field three feet deep and still rising.
Postal Marines and working parties from units in the area have worked 20 to 24 hours a day to be able to keep up with the volume of mail arriving in containers from Kuwait.
"We have a motto in postal services," said Staff Sgt. Mack Reed, postal chief at Combat Service Support Battalion 10, a native of Savannah, Ga. "Get it in and get it out. Move today's mail today."
"Mail is the number one morale booster for the troops. That's what we're here for," adds Cpl. Daniel E. Gonzales, a postal clerk from Houston with CSSB-10.
Packages were difficult to deliver during combat operations in Iraq, due to the constant movement of forces on the ground, says Lt. Col. Tony Poletti, deputy services officer for the 1st Force Service Support Group.
"In order to set up a supply area in a forward operating area where we can break down mail, the ground combat forces have to first secure the location," Poletti adds.
"Another difficult part is actually getting the transportation needed to haul all the mail. During the war, the priority of 'lift' was focused on food, water, fuel and ammunition going to forward units, not on package mail."
Letters sent to forward deployed troops, being lighter and easier to fit in smaller spaces on both ground and air transportation, were transported forward steadily throughout the war. But it still took a lot of coordination to get it to the ground combat units in a timely fashion.
The upswing of the "postal push" began April 21, soon after Marines established Camp Edson in central Iraq. Since that date, postal Marines have handled 115 containers of mail -- amounting to more than 147,000 cubic feet of mail -- averaging about five to eight containers a day depending on the contents of the container.
An impressive record, considering the Marines have no automated label readers, conveyor belts and little heavy machinery to assist them. Most of the mail is handled the old-fashioned way: addresses are manually read and Marines unload and re-load using the human chain method.
Camp Edson is a prime location for several reasons. It's central to the current locations of many 1st Marine Division units, some of which haven't seen delivery of large package mail since two days before the ground war started, when Division commanders asked the 1st FSSG to stop delivery.
The camp is also located aboard an Iraqi university campus, Al Qadisiyah University in Ad Diwaniyah, which provided existing buildings for workspace. The building the postal Marines were assigned was the former main library of the university campus.
Although the building was damaged and slightly burned by looters in early April, it presented a larger space than the tents they used at previous field locations.
Once the mail containers arrive at Camp Edson, postal Marines and working parties unload every container, and separate the bright orange bags of mail into separated piles for various units to collect. When the units arrive to pick it up, the Marines haul the bags into waiting transportation.
The postal Marines have found that they don't have to beg for volunteers from the units they support.
"Everyone's willing to help out," said Mack. "The units realize how much mail we're dealing with here, and everyone wants to speed up the process of getting their mail."
"The units have been sending their working parties without any need to beg for them. Without them, this push wouldn't have been possible."
The postal Marines of CSSB-10 won't be heading south right away, even as U.S. Central Command begins to authorize many Marine units to move back to Kuwait, in preparation for redeployment back to the U.S.
They, along with most Marines of CSSB-10, will stay in Iraq for a while longer. Their mission will be to make sure Marines and sailors of the 1st Marine Division involved with security and stability operations in southern Iraqi cities continue to receive the mail sent by their loved ones.
"We'll continue to support the Division until the end," says Mack.