Postal Marines break new ground in Afghanistan
By Cpl. Paul Peterson
| | September 07, 2013
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
The postal Marines with Combat Logistics Regiment 2, Regional Command (Southwest), took the lead in pioneering a new era of deployed postal technology here.
Servicemembers at Camp Leatherneck’s post office completed their transition to the Pitney Bowes meter and scale system to improve mail service Sept. 1.
The change marks the end for the integrated retail terminals, or IRTs, which came into service with the military near the beginning of the 1990s. The standalone IRT workstations helped automate transactions and limited the need to manually input data. However, after decades of service, the systems still used outmoded floppy disks and tended to crash.
“This is kind of a step back from the IRT, but it’s better than the old system,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mary Findlay, a native of Milford, Penn., and postal officer at Camp Leatherneck. “We’re going back to what we call a meter and scales. The IRT held a lot more information than the old systems, but it’s not really meant for moving about the world like the Marines do.”
The new meter and scale allows postal clerks to weigh packages and compute priorities and services for customers without labor intensive charts or the need to manually input each client’s package information.
The equipment overhaul will be a Department of Defense wide change, but Findlay’s office is the first deployed Marine unit to implement the new technology.
Her Marines have already taken the system into the field to help servicemembers at forward operating bases around Helmand province. Clerks took the IRT on missions as well, but its bulk and age made it less reliable and more difficult to work with.
“The new system is much more streamlined, and that’s another benefit,” said Findlay. “It’s a civilian system, so we’re testing it out to see how it is going to last in the field. There will be testing for the next couple months with it, and then we’ll send feedback to let the [Military Postal Service Agency] know if it’s durable.”
Marine postal has a history of pioneering new technology in the military, noted Findlay. It was the first to implement the new point of sale terminal, which is reserved for major installations such as Marine Corps Bases Camp Lejeune, N.C., Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Okinawa, Japan.
The meter and scale is now the new standard for deployed environments.
“This will be the norm from here on out,” said Findlay. “It’s something different, something new, and we’re the first ones to try it. [Marine] postal is all about it. Once they say, ‘Hey, we got a new product,’ we want to be the first to use it. We want to trouble shoot it, come up with the new [procedures], and get it out into the field.”
Modern communication services cut down the number of letters passing through the post office here. However, the movement of packages and goods is still a leading concern for Marines in deployed environments.
“The basics are exactly the same,” noted Findlay, who has served in military postal for 26 years. “Nothing has changed. It’s just how you get things out is quicker.”
It takes approximately 10 days for mail to reach Marines at Camp Leatherneck from the states. The mail passes first through the civilian postal system. Then the military takes responsibility and filters it to individual servicemembers.
“That piece of mail, whether it’s coming or going, passes through so many hands,” said Findlay.
The post office handles around 4,000 customers and processes up to 200,000 parcels of mail a month. The journey to Afghanistan often includes stops in various U.S. cities and foreign countries before reaching servicemembers in the field.
“I’m just excited we’re able to get up and running with these new systems,” said Master Sgt. Mohammed Eyiowuawi, a Chicago, Ill., native and postal chief at the facility. “We’re entering a new era of technology. It comes down to the leadership here, and I’m proud of my Marines. It’s been my pleasure to work with them in postal and accomplish this mission until we’re back with our families.”
Three of the new systems are currently in use at the camp’s main post office, with four more set aside to assist postal Marines visiting more remote areas.