Sending mail to the military can be a frustrating experience.
Mail designated for military installations can be delivered as quickly as two weeks or as slow as four months! I've heard stories of friends getting multiple care packs that were originally sent separately or sometimes getting care packages out of order.
This indeterminate timeline for shipping is not a fault of any company, shipping carrier or parcel.
So what happens!? More importantly who can we blame!
Unfortunately, there is no one to blame, because this is just the process needed for mail to arrive while also keeping our troops out of harms way.
Let’s start with basics.
Military Mail can only be shipped via USPS and regardless of expedited shipping that you might pay for all mail with an FPO/APO/DPO address is handed over to the Military's version of the Postal Service. The military postal service is NOT bound to shipping and handling requirements, because for them it is more than just walking your mail directly to your son, daughter, husband, wife, etc.
This is a BIG topic that often comes up.
"But I paid EXTRA to get there faster!"
Wrong. You paid extra for it to quickly get from the USPS's hands to the Military Postal Service, but now your mail has to wait with everyone else's and could easily get delayed more if the command or installation needs service parts or food.
This is largely due to the safety and logistics that have to be coordinated and considered.
Having been on both sides I understand the frustration of a delayed delivery as well as the despotism while being deployed. Understanding the process (Below) doesn’t make it easier nor did it make me more patient, but it does help accept the delay to know what exactly your care package or mail has to go through.
When the military postal service receives your mail they first sort it into large piles and send it to the appropriate designation.
AE - Armed Forces Europe
AP - Armed Forces Pacific.
Mail is then stock piled to prepare and coordinate a pick up or drop. Because there are great risks involved in delivering, the military makes sure to take great care in planning deliveries and also setting up as few as possible. This means that they hold onto yours and others mail until there is a large enough collection to deliver. They do this, because they have to minimize risk and fewer shipments are safer and less targeted.
If your service member is on a forward deployed ship, such as the Navy or a Marine, or in the field such as the Army and Air Force, the military then assesses the operational risk associated with the area.
For example with the Navy there are still many risks of pirates and enemy ships, so in order for the ship to receive anything it has to secretly coordinate with the shore installation to travel to a safer body of water and meet with an Underway Replenishment (UNREP) ship.
This can only happen every few weeks and sometimes months depending on how severe the operating area is.
It’s during the UNREP’s that ships receive mail, food, supplies, etc. Also, if the ship greatly needs a part or something is damaged, less necessary shipments such as the mail and your care package gets bumped for the more important item. ZERO cares about expedited shipping. Because the ship is constantly moving there is a great deal of logistics involved.
Marines travel with the Navy on board amphibious ships. They conduct ship-to-shore drills and then stay on shore patrolling area’s as either part of a drill or outside of theater in a high risk zone. Because the Marines are stationed with the ship they might receive mail while the ship is out to sea, but the ship will not deliver the mail to them. It will simply hold the mail until the Marines are able to again board.
Something to mention, and which I have seen happen, because these UNREP’s take place during all weather conditions sometimes the pallets are lost at sea. The ship’s deliver mail, food and fuel by way of a heavy duty extension pulley and helicopter. Sailor’s have to quickly tie these deliveries to the deck while the ship rolls and sometimes Sailor’s aren’t fast enough and the deliveries tumble and roll overboard. It is a very sad day when mail goes off the ship.
For the Army and Air Force, who deploy inland, their delivery systems are reliant upon mail trucks who are able to travel patrolled roads. Trucks run the risk of being, and have been, attacked. The process is similar in that mail is held and coordinated until clearance of a safe travel route is designated.
Once the mail is safely delivered, after having been sorted, collected, pushed into crates, coordinated and travels, sometimes gets bumped, waits some more, then finally is delivered …
The mail is re-sorted and separated by divisions for mail orderlies to pick up and disseminate.
So there it is. It’s frustrating, exhausting and can be a bit of a put-off, but in the end it will reach your troop so long as you put the address correctly. And the feeling of actually getting that care pack or letter is worth having not received one at all.