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"Any mail?"

By 1st Lt. Philippe Mouret
First published in
SFOR Informer#124, October 17, 2001

In the age of satellite communications, cellular telephones and the Internet, we could assess postal services as outdated and useless. For the soldier abroad, that is not the case, just the opposite.

Sarajevo - For service members far from their families, the mail service is the only way to receive products and delicacies from his home, things that can’t be sent electronically. Moreover, no e-mail can bring the same emotion as receiving, opening and discovering, black on white or blue on pink, the words of a dear one. These will not then get lost or disappear in a maze of computer circuits. This letter, and the photo that is enclosed, will find their place on a desk, on a bedside table or in a pocket.
To maintain the link with family and friends is fundamental for the morale of the troops. Every army supplies a dedicated mail service to its soldiers, and the service follows them everywhere. The services are alike, but each has its own unique characteristics. This week the SFOR Informer, indebted to them for the distribution of the paper, begins a series of articles intended to present the mail services to you.
Warrant Officer 2 Pedro Pardiñas manages the mail of the Spanish National Support Element (NSE). Cpl. Enrique Gonzalez, Cpl. Rebeca Herrero and Pfc. Ruth Herrera assist him. They receive and send 25 letters and 20 parcels a week and organise the whole Spanish freight of Butmir. Gonzalez underlines that, “Everybody waits for the mail. It is very important for all.”
Every Thursday, they go to Mostar for the arrival of the plane that flies in once a week from Spain. The main Spanish sorting office is in Mostar. It ensures the distribution of mail to units integrated into the Multinational Division Southeast (MND-SE). There, three soldiers, commanded by Staff Sgt. Francisco Posadas, work. They send about 250 letters and 400 parcels and receive 500 letters and 300 parcels weekly.
“La Poste”
Sgt. Cyril Meyer is Butmir’s French vaguemestre (postmaster), supported by Cpl. Aurélie Charbin. Every day they forward about 50 letters to France and receive about a hundred, and 300 parcels leave, as 200 arrive every month. Meyer goes twice a day to the Military Post Office (Bureau postal militaire, BPM) no. 658 of Rajlovac, which is the main sorting office for French in Sarajevo. It handles mail for the Embassy, the French Air Force Detachment at Sarajevo Airport (DETAIR), the French Logistic Detachment in Rajlovac (DETSOUT), Butmir, and the International Police Task Force (IPTF). Other units assigned in MND-SE are covered by BPM 660 of Mostar.
Warrant Officer 2 Jean-Hugues Clément and 1st Sgt. Patrick Champenois run BPM 658. They are civilian post-office employees, but work for and are paid by the Ministry of Defence. They receive an assimilation rank and can make their entire career within the military structure. Cpl. David Moulliet helps them. Six times a week, a commercial air link (Vacation aérienne commerciale, VAC) arrives with 1,000 letters and 100 parcels from France and goes back with 2,300 letters and 30 parcels. They are forwarded to the addressees in four or five days. The Military Post also performs financial operations (withdrawals and payments on bankbooks, mandates, or withdrawals on Post Office Girocheque), sells stamps, and sends registered letters and telegrams. Meyer insists: “Mail influences people’s mood, they are always in expectation. It seems to us to be Santa Claus.”
The German main Military Post Office (Feldpostamt) is also in Rajlovac. Warrant Officer 2 Helmut Pahl, Warrant Officer 2 Klaus Fichtenkamm, Staff Sgt. Guenther Juergensen and Cpl. Jochen Himmelreich run it. They explain: “We are reservists, post-office employees in civilian life [...] Our tour lasts six months. Here, we are more free [in the work], we have more responsibilities, people expect more from us.”
They manage the receipt and sending of 5,000 letters and 600 parcels, in five rotations a week to Germany. Mail takes from three to four days to arrive and five to six to be distributed in Germany. There are two others smaller offices, in Mostar and in Filipovici, each manned by one person, with which there are several road links a week. Feldpostamt also conducts banking operations.
“We bring certain comfort to people in the theatre, far from their family, from their friends, from their fiancé(e) ... We are more available than in France, on the spot 24 hours a day. We are here to help people,” Clément says. Champenois adds: “It is a wonderful personal experience. Post office employees in France do not imagine the relationship we have with people. Here, we realise the importance of our profession. It is with pride that we are an element in this chain.”
To be continued

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Germany, Spain, France