By Sara E. Martin, Army Flier Staff WriterFebruary 13, 2014
(Editor's note: This is part of a continuing series looking at different jobs and the people who get them done at Fort Rucker. Readers who have ideas for jobs or people to be highlighted in the series can send an email to jhughes 'at' armyflier.com for the staff to consider.)
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (February 13, 2014) -- Nearly half the day was gone, but the postal clerks at the Fort Rucker Postal Center were not nearly finished completing inspections and putting postage on mail of the nearly 400 envelopes and magazines that were waiting for their attention Feb. 6.
As Derold Boyett, mail clerk, and other clerks placed postage on mail, Jose Cintron, installation postal officer, inspected each piece of mail and talked with the others about how nothing could keep them from protecting the base, one day at a time.
"We have a lot of responsibility keeping (people on post) safe from those who would use mail to harm them," he said. "It can be dangerous, and we always have to keep that in mind, but that's not going to keep us from doing our duty, our jobs. And our job is to not only make mail delivery efficient but to keep what is in the mail safe and to keep who it is going to safe."
The day in the life of a postal serviceman at first glance might not seem that exciting or interesting, but for the five postal workers that operate the center, their work lives are full of changing information and security checklists.
"On average we have about 700 to 800 letters and packages a day, and each envelope can pose a danger to us and everyone else on post," he said. "It can be stressful if you think all the time, 'Oh this envelope could have a substance in it.' We always expect that something hazardous will be in a package or an envelope, but we hope with every item we touch that that is not the case, but it can always happen."
The postal center is different from a normal post office because only official business mail of workers on the installation is processed there. Mail coming in and going out, as well as interpostal, meaning mail going from one part of post to another, is processed there.
"We do not process personal mail, but other than that we are just like other post offices," said Cintron.
Mail is visually inspected. If a letter or package does not meet security requirements then workers put it through an X-Ray machine. If it is still suspicious then workers call security.
"(Parcels) go through an X-Ray machine if it looks suspicious, such as it is making a noise or it has an oily film on the outside, has a weird or phony return address or has unusual writing. That's when we call the fire department and the police," said the postal officer.
The police were called several times to the mailroom when the center was located in the Soldier Service Center, once leading to an evacuation of the entire building, said Cintron.
"That is why we now have our own small building, because we don't want to put hundreds people at risk," he said.
But don't worry, said Cintron. Each team member is professionally trained to know what to look for.
The postal workers arrive each day to Bldg. 118 at 7:30 a.m. and leave around 4:15 Mondays through Fridays, which does not close for lunch.
The day begins with marking the letters for postage after a visual inspection by the clerks before the mail is placed in the mailboxes at the center or put in bags, where the postal officer will again inspect the parcels, to be delivered across the installation.
"That process takes all morning. Then someone will take up the route around lunchtime where they drop off and collect accountable mail from about 60 different organizations," said Cintron. "Once we get that mail back here we organize it, run it through our machines and put postage on it.
"We do that for the rest of the afternoon along with other jobs, such as organizing the mail for the next day, re-addressing mail that has the wrong address or name on it, locating misaddressed Soldiers and workers, helping customers and making out reports," he continued.
Workers take turns each day on who goes out to do the route and other jobs to make sure the work doesn't get monotonous.
"Variation is key to safety here, I think. We are always changing up our routines and who does what to make sure that each piece of mail that comes through here gets the attention it deserves," said Boyett. "Plus, we always double check everything that comes in and out. We are Family here -- we have to look out for each other to make sure we don't make mistakes."
Both Boyett and Cintron agree that once someone starts mail work, it's hard to get away from it.
Boyett said one of the perks of his day is when he gets to talk to people as he delivers their mail, admitting he does enjoy chatting.
"The mail never has much personality -- it's the people that make everything fun and interesting," said Boyett. "I like working with and helping the Soldiers I come in contact with everyday. I connect with everyone on the route and everyone that comes to the windows."
By the time 4 p.m. rolls around and the mail that leaves the base has been processed, a truck comes to pick up the carrier's hard work, and for the first time in the day they are allowed to jump into their own vehicles, go home and check their own mailboxes.