Americans have been so generous with donations — from diapers to toilet paper — for the Afghan evacuees being temporarily housed at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar that the volume of it has created problems getting mail to that APO and other addresses.
If officials aren’t able to “stem the flow” of these mailings, the Military Postal Service “may be forced to instruct [U.S. Postal Service] to suspend the offending ZIP Codes because it is clogging the network and impacting other ZIP Codes,” stated an email from the Military Postal Service obtained by and posted on the unofficial Air Force amn/nco/snco public Facebook page.
Efforts have already begun to stem that flow, as an Air Force master sergeant posted late Aug. 30 that Al Udeid has received all the necessary donations, and they don’t require anything further. Officials have requested that the donations be held, or sent to other locations such as Ramstein Air Base, or some of the relocation areas at individual bases, she said. “Please share as appropriate to try to shut down the donations headed to Qatar.”
The Military Postal service email provided a screen shot of a post “copied by a friend” of well-meaning service members who are among those working around the clock to help the evacuees. The service members had provided their personal addresses at Al Udeid where donations could be sent, along with a list of items needed “to help out with the refugee situation,” and that could be bought through Amazon Prime.
The service members said they were in “desperate need” of items for the evacuees such as diapers, baby wipes, toilet paper, toiletries such as toothpaste and tooth brushes, soap, shampoo, hair brushes, sanitization wipes and large containers of hand sanitizer.
Military Postal Service officials confirmed the dramatic increase of mail at Al Udeid.
“The increased volume by well-intentioned individuals has created a challenge for the Military Postal Service to effectively and legally process mail,” said Army Lt. Col. Matt Fontaine, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Human Resources Command.
Military Postal Service officials did not provide information about whether there is an increase of mail donations being sent to Ramstein Air Base, where Afghan evacuees are also being temporarily housed.
Before Aug. 1, the average daily volume of mail going to Al Udeid was about 4,850 pounds. By the end of August, it rose to a daily peak of 19,841pounds, Fontaine said. The cost to the government is about four times higher than the same time period last year.
According to the email detailed on the Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page, on a day in late August, there was 77,000 pounds of mail at the Chicago International Military Service Center destined for the ZIP Code APO AE 09309. That volume of mail will cost the Air Force $192,500. If the installation is overseas, the cost of getting the mail from the U.S. to that installation is borne by the service.
Most inbound and outbound international military and diplomatic mail goes to the Chicago International Service Center (ISC). The Chicago International Military Service Center (CIMSC) section of the facility processes most of the outbound mail. That CIMSC sorts more than 1,000 military ZIP Codes and 100 diplomatic ZIP Codes. The Military Postal Service email included a photo showing the volume of mail at the Chicago IMSC, with the majority of the mail volume destined to ZIP Code 0939, which is Al Udeid.
But volume isn’t the only issue, Fontaine said. “Sending or receiving humanitarian items through the [Military Postal System] violates DoD policy and host-nation agreements.”
DoD officials further elaborated on that policy, which is DoD Instruction 4525.09. “Sending or receiving items for sale, resale, distribution or re-distribution through the [Military Postal Service]” violates that policy and host-nation agreements, said DoD spokesman Peter Hughes. “This includes items in support of humanitarian relief efforts.”
There’s also a problem with some of the requested items, which aren’t authorized to be mailed because they are hazardous, according to postal officials. “Hazardous materials like hand sanitizer are not permitted to be mailed because they jeopardize the safety of commercial airliners carrying the items along with the safety of the passengers on board,” Fontaine said.
A variety of government agencies and non-governmental groups are helping support the evacuees. Those who want to provide humanitarian items should contact the Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Fontaine said.
The master sergeant at Al Udeid suggested that those who would like to donate to help the evacuees, can visit www.alliesrefuge.org. “This organization is working with the First Shirt Counsel at 7 different bases, accepting volunteers, and sorting donations,” she wrote.
Charity Navigator.org has also published its list of highly-rated international aid and relief charities that are responding to the needs of Afghans in crisis.
This story was updated to include more information from DoD on the policy regarding sending items through the Military Postal Service.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.