SIKESTON -- With the holidays fast approaching, anyone planning to make the season brighter for troops serving overseas needs to act fast.
Rose Townsend, postmaster at the U.S. Postal Service office in Charleston, admits holiday business hasn't picked up quite yet, but she expects it to in a week or so. For this reason, she also recommends mailing by care packages and letters as early as possible.
"Once the post office delivers the package to a certain station in the military, then it's in the hands of the military. Sometimes they use a military hop, which means they ship the supplies needed first before other items so that can delay a package," explained Townsend, whose brother is currently serving in Iraq.
And as the holidays approach, mail volumes also get higher, and it takes longer for packages to get through the system, pointed out Sondra Armour, secretary of Charlie Company Family Readiness Group.
Armour noted the recommended deadlines for sending mail to Sikeston's Charlie Company 1140th Engineer Battalion -- and other military personnel -- serving in Iraq are as follows: parcel post packages should be mailed by Nov. 13; and priority mail packages and first-class letters and cards should be mailed by Dec. 6.
But there are several other things people can do to ensure packages and letters arrive on time.
A clerk with the U.S. Postal Service in New Madrid said it's important for people sending the packages to know what the regulations are for each country. People mailing packages need to be aware that custom labels are required on all boxes and that shipments should be properly packaged.
It helps to have custom forms filled out completely prior to prevent long waits at the post office, said the clerk.
Custom forms, which can be picked up at any post office, require a person to list everything in a package being shipped, what the package is valued at, whether it needs insurance, how much it weights and whether the sender wants to leave the package abandoned or returned if it can't be delivered.
"Be sure to package tightly with much cushioning, especially if you're sending breakable items, because the boxes are handled so many times," Townsend advised.
Always use strong boxes with plenty of packing material, such as newspaper or popcorn, according to Armour. Strapping or reinforced tape is strongly recommended.
Also critical to getting packages overseas on time is ensuring senders have the correct mailing address, Armour said, adding the No. 1 reason for delayed delivery of mail is improper or incomplete addresses.
Restrictions do exist on what can be mailed to soldiers in Iraq. Generally speaking, anything that would cause harm to other mail, equipment or mail handlers, or anything that is hazardous to an aircraft in-flight is nonmailable. Fresh fruits, pork (religious reasons), alcohol, aerosol cans, cash or currency, anything obscene or pornographic in nature, knives or weapons of any kind, hazardous materials and flammable goods may not be mailed.
In addition, packages cannot weigh more than 70 pounds or be longer than 108 inches.
Items that can be sent to soldiers include holiday decor like stockings and garland, holiday candy and cookies as well as other items troops can always use such as beef jerky, prepackaged pasta meals and DVDs, Armour suggested.
Townsend said many of the soldiers enjoy receiving cards, especially humorous ones and those about the holidays.
The soldiers of Charlie Company and their families are so grateful to Sikeston, Charleston, New Madrid and all the surrounding communities for their continued support and for their prayers, noted Armour, whose husband and son have been serving with Charlie Company in Iraq since January.
"Care packages from home remind our troops that we are thinking of them and support their efforts in serving America," Armour said. "Sending cards and letters of encouragement is also very important, particularly during the holidays. By doing so, you are providing a little piece of home and bringing joy beyond measure to a soldier."
Anyone wishing to send Charlie Company care packages or letters may mail items to: CO C 1140TH ENGR BN; 1SG DAN ARMOUR; APO, AE 09331.