Mail Call has been a cherished moment for Soldiers, past and present, and most Soldiers are familiar with Army postal units. Mail delivery is an important sustainment function for the Army. However, at times the Army has conducted mail operations beyond the military itself. The Army even helped start the first post office air delivery program. This article will look at Army sustainment operations in starting airmail delivery, the Army air delivery of mail during the 1934 Air Mail Scandal and the Postal Strike of 1970.Air Mail service began in the U.S. in May 1918 but the U.S. Post Office was unable to execute due to the lack of experienced pilots. The new U.S. Army Air Service took the mission until the Post Office was able to take over operations in August 1918 using its own pilots. The initial regular service had Army pilots flying mail from Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York.By 1925, the increase of mail delivery nationwide prompted Congress to pass legislation known as the Kelly Act to allow the Post Office to contract airmail delivery services. In 1933, Congressional investigations began into alleged airmail contract fraud and collusion by officials of the previous administration of President Herbert Hoover. In February 1934, these concerns caused President Roosevelt to cancel, via executive order, all commercial airmail contracts. President Roosevelt then ordered the Army Air Corps to begin air-mail service until new contracts could be awarded.The Chief of the Air Corps during the operation was Maj. Gen. Benjamin Foulois and the Army project was labeled as the Army Air Corps Mail Operation (AACMO). The United States was divided into three zones for the operation:  Western, Eastern, and Central zones. The Army would provide mail service at a reduced level with mission priority designated by the Postmaster General. The U.S. Army Air Corp was unprepared to assume the operation and it would cost the Army sixty six accidents, including twelve deaths during the operations from Feb. 19 through June 1, 1934. Not all of the deaths were from actual AACMO flights as twelve fatalities include those killed during other tasks related to the airmail operations. The Army planes and pilots were not prepared for the long flights or night operations. The pilots themselves were not as experienced since they did not know the routes or possess the flight time hours as the civilian contractors they had replaced. These two issues were often compounded by flying in horrible weather to include massive snowstorms and fog.The Roosevelt administration became increasingly embarrassed after public and partisan attacks following the accidents and deaths. The embarrassment also came from public opinion especially from two of America’s aviation heroes: World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker, who called the flights “legalized murder,” and Charles Lindbergh who called the f lights “unwarranted and contrary to American principles.”By March 10, 1934, continued deaths resulted in a meeting between Roosevelt, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and Foulois; and resulted in what Foulois later called in his autobiography “the worst tongue lashing I ever received in all my military service.” Following the meeting, all flights were suspended for a week until March 19, 1934, to allow the Army to reevaluate flight safety and impose risk-mitigation rules before resuming the AACMO operations until June 1934.The average Army pilot suffered much in transporting the mail. Pilots endured flights in open cockpit aircraft in subzero weather, flying a plane using a map while wearing heavy clothing and gloves. Ground crews also endured suffering while repairing planes out in the open during cold and stormy weather. Additionally, living conditions were often less than satisfactory since life support was on local civilian flying fields. The officers and enlisted were forced to live on the local economy for their lodging and subsistence expenses which quickly exhausted enlisted Soldiers and put officers in a not better situation. It would not be until late March 1934 that financial relief for per diem was provided to those involved in the airmail operations.While the operation was not as successful as regular postal delivery, the Army completed its mission in June 1934 and had prevented a complete standstill of mail delivery. Later in 1941, federal lawsuits were settled by the companies who had their contracts canceled in which it was decided no evidence of fraud or collusion was discovered. Even more likely frustrating, considering the lost lives, was the companies that had their contracts canceled were not allowed to rebid, although they did so simply under a new corporation name and were legally allowed to do so.On March 17, 1970, postal workers in New York began a strike over low pay that was aggravated by a federal worker six month pay raise delay ordered by President Richard Nixon to control inflation. Additionally this was after a recent Congressional pay raise of forty one percent. In a precomputer-centric world, the strike threatened to shut the entire nation down. On March 21, 1970, during a press conference Nixon told workers there would be no negotiations during the strike but the workers did not return to work.On March 23, Nixon declared a national emergency and ordered military forces into New York City to help deliver mail. The military began Operation Graphic Hand which involved personnel from the Active Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. Additionally, forces were used from the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Air National Guard, and the Navy and Marine Corps Reserves. Total forces would reach almost 29,000 according to the U.S. Army Graphic Hand After Action Report (AAR), August 1970. While the strike had spread nationwide as at one point around a quarter of the postal force went on strike, Operation Graphic Hand in itself was focused on New York City postal operations. However if the strike continued, there were plans to deploy troops to up to thirty four additional cities to keep the mail moving as part of Operation Graphic Hand.Since postal supervisors remained on the job, Soldiers were quickly trained in postal activities. This included sorting and unloading mail and, in some cases, assisting at clerk windows as needed. They also made deliveries to businesses, but not residential areas, and transported mail to substations. While it can take a year for new Post Office employee sorters to learn address layouts, the Soldiers had to learn quickly, realizing they could not match the letters per minute accomplished by the average postal employee.Despite this, the military was preventing a total shutdown of mail service until the involved parties could reach an agreement. Postal supervisors had been pleased with the support provided, according to the Army AAR. The government, union leaders, and postal workers were able to come to an agreement on March 25, 1970, ending the strike before a wider military response was needed. With the end of the strike, Active forces returned to normal duty and Reserve forces were rapidly demobilized.The startup of the post office airmail service in 1918 demonstrated the capability of the Army to assist civil authorities when required. Both the Air Mail Scandal of 1934 and Operation Graphic Hand demonstrated the Army could not conduct postal sustainment operations to the level of normal postal workers. However, Army forces could prevent complete shutdown of postal service so vital to the nation. Additionally, it serves as a reminder that the Army can be called to conduct many different types of sustainment missions at any given time or crisis and be expected to perform. As another example, the U.S. Marine Corps also was called to conduct mail train security operations in 1921 and 1926 to protect mail trains from robbery. Soldiers, as historically demonstrated, must be flexible to conduct all operations in support of the nation. For further information on any of these topics, the National Postal Museum is a recommended source for the Operation Graphic AAR available on the World Wide Web.--------------------Jim Harvey is a military analyst at Sustainment Division, Data and Analysis Center, Combat Capabilities Development Command, U.S. Army Futures Command, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Towson State University and a master’s degree in military science with honors from American Military University. He is a member of the U.S. Army Reserve as a lieutenant colonel in the Logistics Branch. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, Transportation Officer Advanced Course, Combined Arms Services and Staff School, and Command and General Staff College (Common Core).--------------------This article was published in the April-June 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.RELATED LINKSArmy Sustainment homepageThe Current issue of Army Sustainment in pdf formatCurrent Army Sustainment Online ArticlesConnect with Army Sustainment on LinkedInConnect with Army Sustainment on Facebook