KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- It's no secret that combat deployments can be stressful for Troops and Family Members everywhere. Although they are always prepared for the challenge, it can be assured that the added stress of being away from loved ones, consistently inclement weather and always having to be prepared for the mission can create harsh conditions for deployed forces.

There are always things that make life better, of course. One thing that is always welcomed during deployments is mail. Packages and letters that allow Troops to stay connected with family members and friends in a way that lifts morale in any "less than favorable" environment.

Since it's establishment on July 1, 1971, the United States Postal Service has been delivering parcels and mail worldwide. Over the past year, the service has handled, and processed, more than 160 billion pieces of mail and handles about 40 percent of the world's mail.
U.S. Army Soldiers with Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, Combined Task Force Dragoon, are doing their part by delivering packages and letters to those deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

These Soldiers have taken the lead in processing mail for their respective troop and are ensuring delivery when needed most.

Spc. Terry Smalley, one of the unit's mail handlers, is in charge of managing personnel information and status reports during day-to-day operations here. He, along with a few others, have been given the opportunity to work with civilian postal workers to help sort and distribute mail for the task force.

"What the civilians do at night is bring in pallets of mail in cardboard boxes," said Smalley. "When we go in there, we pull the truck in, start sorting the mail and we make pallets for the different FOBs (forward operating bases). From there we get the certified and letter mail, sign for it and distribute it while keeping accountability of it."

Mail is a way for troops to stay connected with family and friends. It is a way for loved ones to show that deployed troops are still thought of even though they are serving in another country.

"The mail is significant," said 1st Sgt. Armando Saldana, senior enlisted advisor for Headquarters Troop. "To me, as a leader of such a huge organization, its significant because it keeps the morale up. It's a very fluid environment, being here in combat. Mail is your connection, not only back to Germany, but back to America."

While deployed, receiving a package or a letter could have the ability to turn an otherwise bad day, into a good day. Soldiers who handle mail enjoy the feeling they can bring to someone by delivering a parcel.

"It makes me feel important," said Spc. Dychambra West, a human resources specialist and distributer of the unit's mail. "It is somewhat people's way of communicating. Some of the boxes have 'I love you daddy, I miss you' written on them and it could change someone's whole day."

Saldana expressed his gratitude for the different organizations residing in the U.S. who support the troops by sending care packages containing letters, toiletries and different items that show how much people back home care.

"We have an entire nation supporting us, just continuing to push us," said Saldana. "For us to get something back from the people in the states is mesmerizing because that just tells me that there is an American back home who cares that much that they're willing to send something to that man and woman forward, defending our democracy."

The responsibility of mail distribution allows those who do so to break away from the normal day-to-day routine their job requires them to do. It also allows them to give something to others.

"Other than the rewarding feeling of giving people what they need, it does kind of give me a break from the everyday monotony, said Smalley. "It gives me a little breather to do something that helps other people directly from their family members."

Being away from loved ones is one thing no soldier truly wants. Knowing they think about and care for the troops while they are away really makes a difference.

"We are all away from our families for at least nine months," said Smalley. "Packages from family members remind us that 'hey we still have people back where we are from that care about us.'"