Soldiers deployed to Iraq in support of the Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command -- Operation Inherent Resolve at Union III say receiving mail is one of the best ways to boost morale.
"When somebody goes out and puts some thought into sending me a care package, it lessens that separation that you feel from home and brings that connection back together," said U.S. Army Capt. Nicole Penkowski, environmental officer, 334th Forward Engineer Support Team -- Advance, a reserve unit out of Huntsville, Alabama. Penkowski is one of the many Soldiers who enthusiastically welcomes mail from home.
But who are the hard workers behind the spirit-lifting system that brings packages and letters to all the deployed servicemembers of the Coalition?
U.S. Army Sgt. Daniel Lehigh is the CJFLCC-OIR postal noncommissioned officer in charge, 387th Human Resources Company, out of Bethany, Missouri. He and his team of postal specialists and clerks work hard to ensure the mail is delivered.
"For me the best part about it is the excitement," said Lehigh. "You get to hand the package over to the customers and not only do you see their excitement, you get excited as well. I think, 'I'm the one responsible for that.'"
It takes an average of 17 days to get packages and letters from the U.S. to the Union III mailroom, Lehigh said.
Once the packages and letters get through the Union III entry checkpoint, it is randomly checked by the military working dogs and their handlers.
"It gives the dogs an opportunity to check something different other than the normal vehicles that they check every day," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brian Pate, CJFLCC-OIR kennel master for the 67th Military Police Detachment out of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. "Also, everybody sees that the dogs are searching it… it helps ensure the safety of everyone on Union III."
After the red mail truck, which has been nicknamed Clifford, comes through the gate, it's up to Lehigh and Spc. Brittney Marshall, postal specialist, also from the 387th HR Plt., along with around 10 mail clerks, to sort it out.
"I've seen these tri-walls come in, and I've seen the bags and bins that just fill the hallways, and they're out there like little busy elves just sorting them and getting them all ready for pick-up," Penkowski said. "So I tell you what, those guys really work hard."
An average of seven tri-walls of mail are delivered per day, which equals about 2,500 lbs. of packages and letters, Lehigh said.
U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew Champ, head mail clerk, Main Command Post-Operational Detachment from Lincoln, Nebraska, helps hand out mail and keeps track of who is gone so mail can be held or forwarded.
"It makes me happy to see someone else happy," Champ said. "On the days that we don't get any mail, it seems that people drag a lot more. When we get mail it's an instant switch. It makes people's day."
Marshall agrees that mail is one of the most powerful morale boosters that servicemembers can have.
"If you get a package on a day that was starting out as a bad day, it will help you feel better and change the direction that it was going," Marshall said.
It's not just the packages from friends and family that help with morale. Thanks to the kindness of many strangers who support their troops, even those who don't get packages from family and friends can feel the excitement of getting mail.
"Keep the care packages coming," Champ said. "They help out a lot more than people think. Some Soldiers don't have anyone back home to send them anything. Care packages help boost them because they get something."
Mail from home helps keep up morale for the servicemembers who are working hard to support the Iraqi Security Forces in their fight against ISIS in Iraq. The Soldiers who work hard to get that mail out understand they play a direct role in preserving and maintaining unit morale.
"Everyone has a very important role in overall deployment operations," Penkowski said. "Each is a cog in the machine that makes a deployment run smoothly. If we didn't have everyone, we really wouldn't be able to operate as well."