FORWARD OPERATING BASE PAYNE, Afghanistan -- For a Marine infantryman fighting in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan surviving on a mix of adrenaline, fear, and Meals-Ready-To-Eat, a quick note from home can do wonders for morale.
Understanding that basic human need, leaders in the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) have placed the timely and uninterrupted flow of mail high on their list of priorities, and a small team of Marines from the MEU work tirelessly to meet this objective.
Sgt. Carroll Mitchell, of Roanoke, Virginia is the postal chief for MEU Service Support Group 22 and senior postal clerk in the MEU. Along with Sgt. Jason Jones, of Caryville, New York, Mitchell is the first link in the chain that gets letters or packages into the hands of its intended recipient.
"The most mail the MEU has received in one day is seven pallets, or around twenty thousand pounds," said Mitchell, who works with Jones at Kandahar Air Field's central postal station. "We sort all the mail by MSE [major subordinate element] and arrange for its pick up."
When Mitchell and Jones finish sorting the mail, postal clerks from the MEU Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines, and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced) arrive to pick up the mail that has been conveniently sorted and stacked in bright orange bags.
"I receive the mail from postal and break it down by companies," said Lance Cpl. Dytrick Whiters, of Atlanta, Georgia, a BLT 1/6 administrative clerk who doubles as the unit's postal clerk. "I then push it out to the FOB [forward operating base]where the battalion is."
Whiters, who usually works alone, sorts and forwards to FOB Ripley on average up to two thousand pounds of mail a day. For Marine Medium (Reinforced), Cpl. Josue Valdez, of Austin, Texas, handles the mail while Marysville, Ohio native Cpl. Ryan Shuster takes care of the Command Element.
"The most difficult thing is knowing where everyone is," explained Shuster, who's on his second consecutive float with the 22d MEU (SOC). "Between our core staff, augments, and attachments, I have to either keep the mail here at KAF or send it up to FOB Ripley."
After sorted by the individual MSE postal clerks, the mail is collected and flown to FOB Ripley in the heart of Afghanistan's Oruzgan province via helicopter or KC-130 transport plane. Once there, another MSSG-22 postal clerk, Cpl. Robert Guy, of Muskegon, Michigan, once again distributes the mail to the MSEs who get it to the Marines at the FOB or out in the field via the next resupply convoy.
Despite the hard, time-consuming work involved in getting the mail delivered, the postal clerks derive a certain, behind-the-scenes pleasure from getting the mail out to the Marines.
"We never keep the mail a minute longer than we have to because we know how important it is," said Whiters. "It feels good to know I'm helping boost the morale of the Marines out there in the fight."
The 22d MEU (SOC) is in Afghanistan conducting combat and civil military operations as Task Force Linebacker for Combined Joint Task Force 76 in the Oruzgan province.
For more information on the 22d MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at www.22meu.usmc.mil.