May 5, 2004
While the U.S. Department of Defense has greatly speeded up the delivery of ammunition, equipment and other needed supplies to the troops, it still has trouble delivering the mail. This has been a problem for over a century. And the cause of the problem has not changed. Basically, the postal service usually does a pretty good job of rapidly delivering the mail to where the military takes over. Each of the services is responsible for taking the mail from those locations (the APO ZIP codes) to the individuals, wherever they are. The Pentagon, it recently was discovered, didnt even know how long it took to get mail to the troops. Pentagon stats showed it took 11-14 days. This was considered excellent, as the wartime standard was 12 to 18 days. But an independent survey of the troops found that it tool closer to three weeks, with half the troops waiting four weeks or more to get mail from home.
The problems could be traced back to the last reform of the military mail system in the late 1970s. This led to the establishment, in 1980, of The Military Postal Service Agency. While run by army personnel, it was responsible for getting all overseas military personnel, and Department of Defense civilian employees, their mail in a timely manner. The agency proceeded to work out arrangements with the other services to assure the smooth delivery of mail to the hundreds of overseas bases where troops eagerly awaited it. There was just one problem with this arrangement; it has not been tested in a long war. Oh, there were some complaints in 1991, during the Gulf War. But that one was over so quickly that the complaints soon faded from memory, and the agency saw no compelling reason to reform itself. Iraq, however, turned out to be a rather large and sprawling operation that went on for a while. The agency couldnt handle it. Or, actually, the army, marines and anyone else inside Iraq couldnt handle it. But thats the problem. The Military Postal Service Agency was set up to make sure problems like that did not arise. But the agency was never given the power to force the various services to do this or that. Because the agency was created in a peacetime environment, it developed the custom of careful negotiation in a stable, non-chaotic environment. The agency wasnt prepared for something like Iraq, and, worse yet, didnt even know it. Bureaucracy at its finest, after a fashion. But now the pressure from the White House and Congress is pretty intense, and long needed reforms are underway. The troops will be getting their mail in a more timely manner. For a while at least.