By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Brian Gaines, USS Boxer Public Affairs
GULF OF ADEN (NNS) -- Sailors and Marines aboard amphibious transport dock ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) rely on postal clerks to receive news from home or packages that improve morale and quality of life.
The process begins as packages and letters are sent to one of two Fleet Post Office (FPO) sites within the United States, according to Postal Clerk 2nd Class (SW) Andrew French.
"All mail that is delivered to ships in the Pacific Ocean is processed out of the San Francisco FPO," said French. "Then, the packages and letters are sorted and packaged to be sent to their final location."
"Getting the mail from the flight deck to our Sailors is a busy process," said Postal Clerk Seaman Faith Jones-Johnson. "We work quickly to ensure mail is getting to the right place in a timely manner."
Mail is weighed and packaged in bulk to be sent to the ships. It is not uncommon for a ship to receive as much as 20,000 pounds of mail during one vertical or underway replenishment. The mail is then sorted by department and division with the help of divisional mail orderlies.
"We have about four mail orderlies per division," said Jones-Johnson. "They must be qualified and are the only people who are allowed to help us handle mail."
In November 1960, the first 644 Sailors were converted to postal clerks (PC) and allowed to wear the PC rating. The need for efficient movement of the mail was a recognized necessity in the days before the Internet and satellite communications. The current 900 postal clerks in the Navy will eventually be merged with the ship's serviceman and storekeeper rates, ending up with about 13,000 Sailors in the combined rate.
Training to be a postal clerk for the military begins after basic training. Postal clerks for all branches of the military undergo five weeks of training at Fort Jackson, S.C. This "A" school is managed and operated primarily by the U.S. Army, with instructors from all five branches.
Some rather unusual requests for mailing items have been made in the past.
"These are against postal regulations under most conditions, so we have to be careful not to let certain items get mailed," French said.
Getting the mail to Sailors and Marines is the top priority for Boxer's post office.
"We don't hold onto mail unless it has to be signed for," said Jones-Johnson. "We want our Sailors and Marines to have their mail as soon as possible, and we don't have a lot of storage room in our post office."
Some Marines, such as Lance Cpl. Sara Hartzel, who works in training and support for the embarked air combat element, noted Boxer's postal clerks are vital to morale.
"I'm glad we have services such as a post office while underway."
Boxer Expeditionary Strike (BOXESG)/13th Marine Expeditionary Unit are currently on a regularly scheduled deployment in support of global maritime security.
BOXESG is comprised of Amphibious Squadron 5, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21 Detachment 3, Naval Beach Group 1, Assault Craft Unit 5, Assault Craft Unit 1, Beach Master Unit 1 and Fleet Surgical Team 5.
The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit is comprised of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced), Combat Logistics Battalion 13 and Battalion Landing Team 1/1.
For more news from USS Boxer (LHD 4), visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd4/.