By CourtesyMay 9, 2019
Story by Maj. David Leiva
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - They line up in a long, narrow hall on the backside of the Zone 2 post exchange. Sitting on discarded black, dusty chairs or on a couple of left over wooden benches, the scenery is insipid, vacant of any décor on the beige-painted cinder blocks.
It's first-come, first-serve to get mail from home at this gathering hole. Some have been waiting since 7:30 a.m., noshing on oatmeal and eggs in a white Styrofoam to-go plate. Others are wearing wireless ear buds, playing music on their smartphones or scrolling through their latest Facebook feeds. With occasional head nods to one another, they have their own unwritten rules.
At precisely 9 a.m., a woman in a sky blue polo shirt opens the door, and the unwitnessed inner workings of the U.S. military postal system at Camp Arifjan is unlocked. The day officially begins for all of those lead unit mail clerks - mail carrier in the vernacular - who will pick up, sort, catalog and deliver thousands of packages to eager hands. It is something they do every single day of the year.
Since Jan. 4, Sgt. Curtis Roach, an unassuming and easily the lowest key member of Headquarters Company, 184th Sustainment Command, has quietly picked up the keys of his white, manual, double-door 2018 Toyota Hiace cargo van, affectionately known as the "Scooby Van," and trudged along at 40 kilometers per hour (24 miles per hour) to the mail corral.
He pulls out a yellow receiving bag, strolls across the parking lot, and waits his turn to meet with the other blue polo-wearing mail officials to scan and sign for the packages that have arrived. They move along from one chair to the other in an assembly line.
Sgt. Leah Hampton, a fellow 184th Soldier, accompanies him when necessary.
"He's laid back. He's nonchalant," says Hampton, who will sometimes sub for Roach.
Otherwise, Roach is a one-man band, part of this sort of subculture of military letter carriers who go unseen and unheard. And, with only the infrequent help, he has been, ultimately, responsible for the timely and (so far) errorless delivery of over 9,000 packages in Kuwait for nearly 300 personnel in seven different units, including the 184th.
For Spc. Raven Lee, of the unit's communication section, not much has changed when it comes to getting mail. She says she gets just as many packages at home as she has in Kuwait. She keeps the mailroom busy with parcels that come from Amazon along with family and friends. But, for her, it's more about kindling relationships with her family at home.
"It reminds me that even though I am far from home, my loved ones are still thinking of me and that keeps me going," Lee said.
This wasn't the job Roach expected when he was ordered to mobilize with the unit in November, temporarily stepping away from his security post at the Mississippi National Guard's Joint Forces Headquarters.
Roach was working with the supply section and helping the unit's mechanics, but personnel changes forced him to be tapped with the position. Staff Sgt. Carmen Yepez, the unit's postal officer, chose him partly because he was available and also because he had the right temperament. This also meant he had to get out of his comfort zone. Roach estimates he's used a computer more in Kuwait than he has his entire career as he pecks at the keyboard to answer emails.
"Yep. It makes me know I am doing something important," he says, hiding his eyes before a forced laugh sneaks out.
Once Roach brings the mail back to the unit's company headquarters, he must sort it out by section, catalog it into an official form and be prepared when the unit's various mail orderlies - all certified, trained, appointed, and hold security clearances - come to pick it up between 3pm-5pm to hand deliver it to the individual. These orderlies must sign for every package and registered letter.
There are other procedures that mail clerks, like Roach, have to comply with along with strict rules. For instance, a unit can hold a package for up to 15 days before it must be returned. Once in a while, there's a "mispitch," where mail is returned because it was sent to the wrong unit. There are some Soldiers who don't leave a forward mailing addresses, and the package must be returned timely.
In four months, Roach has seen it all come: oscillating fans, clothes, ice makers, military equipment, fruits, shoes, cosmetics, birthday gifts. Even gallons of starch.
When Sgt. Viveca Brown, of the unit's personnel section, isn't handling personnel issues, she's opening up a new package that has come to her from one of many different companies that are sending her boxes of goodies. She's gotten paperback books, and even her motorcycle club sends her items. This keeps a smile on her face, she said, and some tug her heart, like the photos of her children sent to her on Valentine's Day.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Chrystal Brown says getting mail is the highlight of her day because everything she receives has been either something she needed or something she wanted. Especially when it comes from her husband. It can range from food and jewelry to her favorite conditioner.
"How could you not like to hear the words: 'You've got mail'?" she said.
Not every day is a matter of juggling the many cartons. Some days, only four letters will show. Other days, like when the Mississippi Project Package of Southaven sent every single member of the 184th a care package, Roach was slammed. It was a Sunday, the rest of the unit was off for morning resiliency.
The 43-year-old from Greenwood, took it all in stride, going unphased with picking up nearly 250 12-pound boxes. That day, he had one other person help.
"It makes the time go by," he says.
And, it's selfless. In the thousands of packages and letters he has touched, Roach has only received one item - the 12-pound box everyone else got.