FORT DEVENS, Mass.-- While all Army roles are crucial on the battlefield, postal Soldiers serve a unique role for troops in a deployed area. Postal Soldiers provide a means to send and receive packages and voting ballots from the mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of Kuwait back home to the United States.

During this year's annual, two-week Silver Scimitar exercise held here, human resources and postal Soldiers are taught and advised by military civilians, forward-deployed Soldiers on temporary orders back to the U.S., and previously-deployed Soldiers who volunteer as instructors.

The Military Postal Service Agency is the military wing of the U.S. Postal Service, operated by service members from all branches. These troops follow the same security parameters required of federal postal workers, with the same reprisals for tampering with mail or absentee ballots.

"Before we started using the Automated Military Postal System in 2000, we didn't have date stamps and things weren't tracked, and ballots were bundled, but became comingled," said Maj. May Verdar, military postal service agency management analyst at Human Resources Command. "Under the old system, information wasn't flowing to postal personnel. This system revamped the whole process."

May is an individual mobilization augmentee assigned to Silver Scimitar as an instructor.
She said the new absentee voting system took about a year to develop after a new piece of federal legislation required the military to better account for absentee ballots, thus ensuring every service member has a chance to vote.

After several hours of training over numerous days, leaders can see how their instruction is sinking in with the Soldiers.

"I think [the Soldiers] are in information overload," said Faye Slater, deputy director of the MPSA, who was here giving presentations to Soldiers. "This is good training with knowledgeable instructors. They can't get this training any other time and I've received really positive feedback."

Larry Vann, a former first sergeant who's a branch manager with the MPSA, trains Soldiers on using the Integrated Retail Terminal, the information terminal postal Soldiers use to serve customers in military post offices. While deployed, Soldiers take the postal information from their terminals and send it to the U.S. Postal Service via AMPS.

"I first fielded the IRT to the schoolhouse in 1989," said Vann. "Ideally, we want all of the postal Soldiers trained on this machine. It's important that the machine Soldiers train on is the same one they operate in the field."

The first part of Silver Scimitar involves training and refreshing Soldiers and leaders on equipment, policies and procedures. The second part, the culminating training event, features the practical application of the lessons in setting up their human resources offices and postal offices in a simulated deployed environment. Soldiers go through a series of mock scenarios, operating the equipment as they would overseas.

"There is absolutely an effect from Silver Scimitar," said Slater. "We will be able to show that effect with the results from evaluations in the culminating training event; how much they've grown."

The exercise definitely resonates with Soldiers who have attended training previously.

"We have used the IRT since school and at last year's Silver Scimitar," said Spc. Alexander Bisson, a human resources specialist with the 806th Military Mail Terminal. "It's not the newest equipment we use, but it gets the job done and that's what matters."

Bisson, a Santa Clara, Calif., native, is a six-year veteran in the U.S. Army Reserve. He feels confident about his performance during a future deployment based on his time spent at Silver Scimitar.

"After this training, I'll be fairly ready," he said. "So far, so good. I feel prepared; I enjoy my job and love my unit."