CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Not many places can match the bustle of a U.S. shopping mall during the holiday season, but the post office here comes close.
Approximately 30 tons of letters, packages and gifts arrive at Camp Taqaddum by plane everyday between Thanksgiving and New Years.
Marines at TQ Postal make sure these items reach nearly 14,000 service members and civilian personnel here and thousands more throughout Al Anbar Province.
“Our Marines make sure the mail gets to where it needs to go,” said Staff Sgt. Shane J. Hall, post office/finance manager at TQ Postal, Headquarters Company, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward).
The unit is made up of nine different sections and serves several bases in western Iraq, including Ar Ramadi, Fallujah, Habbaniyah, Corregidor and Blue Diamond.
Hall, a 27-year-old from Harrisburg, Pa., said that distributing mail on this large scale, and in Iraq, is a complex process.
“This is the part that everyone sees,” said Hall, pointing toward a reception window resembling that of any other post office. “But there’s a lot of moving parts, and there’s a lot more that goes into it.”
Marines in the operations warehouse begin by separating the deliveries into two categories, letter-class and packages, before determining which stay at Camp Taqaddum and which go to units at other bases.
Letter-class mail reaches its destination by daily helicopter flights. The regularity of the flights helps guarantee service members receive their time-sensitive mail, such as bills and newspapers, in a timely fashion, said Hall.
High volume parcels, however, take up too much space for helicopter delivery, so TQ Postal moves these by ground in 20-foot containers via Combat Logistics Regiment 15 and Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) convoys.
Service members with other units have also helped postal Marines deal with the influx of mail during the holiday season.
“We’ve been getting great support,” said Gunnery Sgt. Roderick Haynes, operations chief at TQ Postal. “(The volunteers) come in, they’re motivated, and they love pushing the mail forward to those who don’t have it as nice as we do here.”
Haynes said conditions at TQ Postal weren’t always “nice,” citing significant improvements since 2004. For example, he said the mail is more organized when it arrives than it was during his last deployment to Iraq, and now it takes less time to sort.
“We even had a night crew in 2004,” said Haynes, a 41-year-old from Camp Pendleton, Calif. “Now we don’t need one.”
The hours spent at work might have decreased since Haynes’ last deployment, but the importance of delivering the mail has remained the same.
Master Sgt. Lester F. Poole, postal chief for I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), commented on what a letter or care package from home means to a troop in Iraq.
“In a deployed setting, it makes a world of difference, more so than it does in the (states),” said Poole, a 37-year-old Chicago native. “Our Marines do their job, and have a great attitude, because they know how important it is for everyone they serve.”
One junior Marine voiced her agreement: “I told my family that if I’m not going to be with them over the holidays, and if I could be anywhere else, I’d want to be here – with Postal, in Iraq – for the rest of the troops,” said Lance Cpl. Jessica N. Lorenzana, a clerk with TQ Postal.
She’s in charge of “MotoMail,” a service which allows family and friends to type a confidential message which is downloaded, printed and delivered to a deployed Marine, usually within 24 hours.
“It was designed for the (infantry) units who don’t have access to email,” said Lorenzana, a 23-year-old from New Albany, Miss.
Whether supervising the delivery of these telegram-like emails or shipping care packages to distant combat outposts, Marines with TQ Postal continue delivering the mail throughout the holiday season.
“Sometimes people come in and thank us for our support, and that makes us feel good,” said Haynes, “but it’s our job … it’s what we do.”