WIESBADEN, Germany - Front-door customers at Wiesbaden's Postal Service Center expect their mail to arrive on time and in good condition. When it doesn't, they may blame local postal workers, unaware that packages and letters arriving at the Consolidated Mail Room and leaving from the Army Post Office are handled a multitude of times before reaching their final destinations.
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"A lot of people are unaware of how the mail is processed," said Earl Small, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden postmaster. "We have problems with customers when a package comes in and it's damaged. We're the face they see when it arrives. We try to do our best to take care of everybody's mail."
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Unlike the Wiesbaden postal unit which ensures that all outgoing letters and packages are transported in plastic-lined mail bags, the U.S. Postal Service has no such policy. "We put plastic liner in our bags so your letters and packages are protected," said Quintin Harvey, Wiesbaden postal operations supervisor. "The USPS doesn't do that."
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Sorted and scanned
All mail is sorted and scanned upon arrival. When a package does arrive in a damaged condition it is quickly identified as such, rewrapped with special red-and-white packing tape and labeled. "That's a regulation that we have to give it to the customer rewrapped. If we rewrap it, it will have the red and white tape on it," said Harvey. "Once we rewrap the article it is stamped 'received in wet/damaged condition at APO ______' and dated. That is required. Wet mail is held at the APO until it is dry."
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When customers head to the CMR pick-up window to get their parcel and discover that it has been damaged they have two options. They can either refuse to accept the article and it will be returned to sender at no charge, or they can take it and contact the company themselves to seek a refund or replacement article.
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If a parcel is received without content or missing items and the parcel is not insured, the customer should contact the sender. If insured, he or she should see one of the postal clerks for assistance.
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Customers can also pay for insurance when ordering items from companies. "Ask the company if they'll insure it," said Small. "If you don't request anything they'll just send it standard."
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"You must have insurance to get the reimbursement," added Harvey, explaining that many people assume because companies provide tracking information their merchandise is insured, but that is not the case.
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"If it's not insured, we can talk about it, but there's nothing we can do except provide an apology," said Small.
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Even without insurance, most companies will resend items or refund them if lost in the mail, the postal officials said, advising patrons to always inventory the contents of a parcel upon arrival. "If something is missing, contact the company," said Harvey.
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A,A "If you get a box and see that is has been damaged you can refuse it," added Small. But once accepted by the customer, it becomes the property of the customer and the Wiesbaden PSC will not return it to sender at no cost to the customer.
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"The same thing applies to outgoing mail," said Small. "If you want reimbursement, it has to be insured."
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Ensuring that only permissible items are placed in boxes for shipment and that U.S. Customs forms are properly filled out are also responsibilities of the customer. That means that no U.S. Customs-banned items such as fresh fruits or vegetables, batteries, alcohol or lighters are permitted.
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Mail X-rayed
"Everything that leaves here is X-rayed," said Small, explaining that all packages travel by air to the United States. "If any illegal items are found in your parcels such as batteries, knives or Zippo lighters, your parcel will be returned to the APO of mailing for you to remove said illegal item."
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"We would also like to constrain customers from sending flour, ajax, chalk paint, tortilla flour ..." anything that might leak during shipment resulting in a powder-like substance in the postal facility. "Once we open the bag and see powder everything else stops," said Harvey, explaining that the building must be cleared, the authorities notified and other actions taken to ensure the safety of all in the vicinity resulting in a four-to-five-hour delay.
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Besides correctly and accurately listing all items on the Customs form, patrons must be sure to use the right packing materials. Harvey gave the example of a customer returning a computer to the company would want to use the original boxes and packing materials to ensure it is not damaged during transit and accepted by the merchant.
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USPS priority boxes
The postal authorities also reminded patrons that they can save money when mailing items by using the USPS priority boxes available at the Postal Service Center. "If we don't have those boxes on hand customers can go to www.USPS.com and they'll deliver the boxes directly to your CMR address," said Harvey, adding that the Priority Mail boxes cannot be used for MPS mail. "They're for paying customers."
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Other ways postal patrons can help speed up mail delivery are ensuring mail is properly addressed, that senders use the proper addresses and notifying CMR staff when a mail recipient will be absent for any length of time so that mail will be properly forwarded or retained until the recipient returns. "Soldiers sometimes go downrange on short notice and fail to give us a disposition," said Harvey. "They can email us, as long as it's from a .mil address to let us know whether to forward or hold their mail."
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Patrons are encouraged to check their mail at least once a week to avoid a backlog of mail in the facility which has limited storage space. "When redeployment of 1st Armored Division occurs, with Soldiers sending footlockers and other large items, we'll have even less space."
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Patrons are asked not to remove the yellow parcel pick-up slips from their mailbox except when picking up packages. "Don't take them home where you might lose them," Harvey said.
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The only documents permitted for mail pickup are the Common Access Cards, passports and, if retired (a Box R holder), the blue retired ID card.
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The Wiesbaden CMR staff recently purchased new trolleys available for patron use when carrying several packages from the pickup window to a nearby vehicle. Customers are welcome to use the trolleys, but are asked to return them to the window after transport. "They are for CMR use and not for APO parcels," Harvey said.
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"If you're unsure about anything, ask one of the clerks," he added. "They're friendly and helpful."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16