By Spc. A.M. LaVey
JTF-H / XVIII Airborne Corps Public Affairs

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- U.S. postal inspectors have arrived here to conduct security assessments and help prepare to set up an Army post office, as well as to assist with the restoration of mail service to the earthquake-ravaged country

"We have 30 days from the time we arrive in country to set up military mail service," said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Nelson, Joint Task Force-Haiti J-1 noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "The civilian postal inspectors will determine what needs to be done before we have an Army postal unit arrive," said Nelson.

According to a U.S. Postal Service press release, this experienced team of postal inspectors has sharpened their skills in the aftermath of such large-scale disasters as Hurricane Katrina.

One of the inspectors, Inspector Kenneth Miller, has also been battle-tested as the former chief of postal operations for the Iraq theater, before he retired from the Army.

"This mission is a lot different because the Haitian postal infrastructure is nonexistent," said Nelson.

"Postal service was stopped because the main facility was destroyed - so there is currently no mail coming in or going out at this time," he said. "We are going to have to build this Army post office from the ground up," said Miller.

Re-establishing postal services in Haiti requires close coordination with the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and various components of the Department of Defense.

The process of setting up an Army post office is a joint effort between the Department of Defense, the U.S. Postal Service, and the liaison between the two - the Military Postal Service Agency.

"When they postal inspectors turn in their report, the JTF-H will work with MPSA and the USPS to do what needs to be done to get postal operations up and running," said Lt. Col. Edward Allen, the chief of postal operations for JTF-H.

There must be facilities and personnel to accomplish the mission. Transportation needs to be secured and coordinated, postal Soldiers need to be in country, routes need to be cleared, security measures must be in place, unit mail clerks must be trained and the necessary equipment must be in place.

"To get to the point where a Soldier can receive mail here, we have to build the airmail terminal at the airport so that we can receive the incoming mail," said. Allen. "From there we take the mail, receive it, and sort it, so that the mail can be transported to the units."

"The lack of postal infrastructure in Haiti will make it difficult to meet the 30 days guidance," said Allen. "In the beginning the post will be limited in scale to what can be sent and received."

The Soldiers tasked with setting up the JTF-H Army Post Office are from the 502nd Postal Platoon, 502nd Human Resources Company, Brigade Troops Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), Fort Hood, Texas, and should be on the ground within a week.

The postal platoon, whose mission is to run a military post office and assist in mail terminal and distribution facilities, will have 48 hours to set up the APO, said Miller.

"The middle of February is the target date for postal operations to begin. The ground has already been broken on a military mail terminal and the troops are on their way," Miller said.

(This article is part one of a two-part series on the development of the military postal service in Haiti)