CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Received with a smile, it encourages the disheartened spirit and recharges the weary soul. Warriors on the frontline anxiously await this timeless tradition. Every day it boosts morale and invokes elation.
It’s mail call, and it’s possible thanks to the hard work of the Marines and soldiers who work at the postal distribution center at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq.
For service members spread throughout the Al Anbar province of Iraq, their mail is handled by the postal personnel at either Camp Taqaddum or Al Asad Air Base, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Don McCarty, the officer in charge of postal operations for the 1st Marine Logistics Group.
The 1st MLG is currently in the final stages of completing a personnel turnover with the 2nd MLG, which is heading home after a year-long stint in Iraq. The latest staff is also supplemented by other 2nd and 3rd MLG Marines along with soldiers from the Army’s 755th Adjutant General Company, 400th Personnel Service Battalion, a reserve unit from Texarkana, Texas.
The main distribution warehouse here handles on average 42, 844 pounds of incoming and outgoing mail every day. The Al Asad distribution center handles roughly 26,636 pounds daily.
In addition to Marine mail, the Marines and soldiers here and at the Al Asad Air Base handle all of the Army’s mail for the entire province.
For Master Gunnery Sgt. Tommie Tate, the postal chief for 1st MLG, it’s almost like being the proud father of a hard working, enthusiastic family.
“(The junior Marines) understand the bigger picture of it all,” said the 43-year-old native of Vero Beach, Fla. “They do all the work.”
When the current workforce arrived to replace the outgoing staff, it was only partial, advanced staffing. As was planned, the postal personnel here worked at about 60-percent staffing for a short period of time.
Although this led to longer hours, they were quite capable of handling it and were hardly fazed, said McCarty.
No matter how early or how late they would have to stay, the Marines and soldiers wanted the mission accomplished each and every day.
“They have been working since the moment they got here,” said Staff Sgt. Ramon Arredondo, 1st MLG postal operations chief.
Ultimately, the turnover was a smooth one for a variety of reasons.
“It’s been one of the best turnovers I’ve ever seen,” said Arredondo, due in large part to the fact that the Marines were confident coming into the turnover because of the experience they had gained from previous deployments.
With only around 400 postal Marines in the entire Marine Corps, personnel are pulled from every available resource to accomplish the mission overseas while maintaining the necessary staff in the United States, said McCarty, a 43-year-old, Omaha, Neb. native. This often leads to postal Marines deploying repeatedly.
However, multiple deployments are the prime reason why the current staff is operating in an experienced and smooth-running fashion, Arredondo said.
Arredondo, a 35-year-old Fresno, Calif. native, attributed the confidence not only to the experience of his Marines, but also to good communication between the departing and arriving parties.
Although they were in the process of heading home, the Marines from 2nd MLG “were here every day, helping us out,” said Lance Cpl. Rachel F. Bolka, postal clerk.
“They definitely supported us since we were short (on personnel at the time),” said Bolka.
There is a certain sentiment that surrounds the work of the Marines and soldiers of the postal distribution center, knowing they spread morale throughout Camp Taqaddum and all the forward operating bases they service.
Knowing that the mail she is handling will soon be heading out to the Marines on the frontlines of Operation Iraqi Freedom is a special feeling, said Bolka, a 24-year-old Tucker, Ga. native.
“We do postal back in the States,” said Bolka, “but it’s more meaningful out here.”
“(Out here), everybody knows who you are because we deliver the mail to every base in the Al Anbar province,” said Lance Cpl. Kelly Martinez, a postal clerk with 1st MLG and 25-year-old Hammond, Ind. Native.
For the Marines and sailors delivering the mail, it’s hard work and hard labor handling thousands of pounds of mail every day, but it is an effort they are more than willing to put forth.
“Nothing will ever compare to getting a letter (in Iraq),” Arredondo said.