Maintenance window scheduled to begin at February 14th 2200 est. until 0400 est. February 15th


Forgot Password?

    Defense Visual Information Distribution Service Logo

    A Brief History: 100 Years of U.S. Military Mail Services



    Story by Sgt. 1st Class Ben Navratil 

    3rd Division Sustainment Brigade

    During the Revolutionary War everything from battle plans to requests for supplies were completed through letters of correspondence. This may beg the question, how were postal functions carried out when the modern day Army post office was not established until 1918? Benjamin Franklin, the first Postmaster General, helped organize the mail system in the Colonies. But mail was expensive, so it was typically the wealthy who used the official mail system. This followed true until the Civil War when postage prices were simplified and were not based on distance but size and weight. Soldiers in the Continental Army used trusted couriers who were essentially other Soldiers traveling between areas. The Civil War did bring changes in mail handling to include the predecessor of the modern day “free mail.” With the “Soldier’s Letter” program, Soldiers were able to send letters without stamps; payment due was collected from the recipient. Additionally, because of the sheer number of Soldiers writing home, the Post Office created free home delivery for cities, which has translated today into the daily door-to-door postal service. United States postal workers delivered almost all military postage to Soldiers and their Families through the Spanish American War until the Great War.
    Civil War image of post office tent at Army of the Potomac headquarters, Falmouth, Virginia, April 1863
    In the beginning of WWI, military personnel had a limited role in the handling and transport of mail as the U.S. Postal Department maintained this responsibility. The Railway Mail Service (RMS), operated by civilian employees, delivered mail from across America to New York where mail would be sent to Europe on civilian ships. As mail arrived in Europe, RMS workers would again distribute the mail throughout France and other locations; additionally, the RMS distributed mail for Soldiers sending letters or packages home.
    In 1918 Brigadier General Robert C. Davis oversaw the expansion of all Adjutant General Operations in the European theater, to include assuming the responsibility for overseas post offices. In 1918 military personnel started to operate field postal stations and the first all-military mail service in American history, known as the Military Postal Express Service (MPES), was put into operation. As the service grew, the MPES opened the first Army Post Office, APO 753, in May in Limoges, Haute-Vienne, France.
    Map Depicting the APO’s in France by the APO number during WWI.
    At the end of WWI the United States began demobilizing units from Europe until the last thousand Soldiers departed in 1923. By this period the active Army had decreased per congressional mandate to 137,000 Soldiers. Mail delivery service for Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines serving in overseas destinations was often conducted by using foreign postal facilities during the 1920 and 1930’s. The Post Office Department managed all mail to U.S. territories, including U.S. Military Mail and postal services to locations such as Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama, and the Philippines, utilizing commercial ships as the primary mode for transportation. Air Mail services were available for additional fees which could be rather costly. As a side note, many postal employees became sick with Malaria or Yellow Fever, putting personnel in quarantine and often delaying ship transportations to military destinations.
    Within the continental United States, the active Army was utilized for national security missions, public works initiatives, and internal affairs endeavors in the 1920s and 1930s. During this period there is little mention of military postal activities, however, in 1934, the Army Air Corps assumed responsibility for carrying Air Mail for four months on order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, this operation ended ahead of expectations as the Air Corps was unprepared for such an undertaking. As the U.S. Military began preparing for the possibility of another war, it became evident that rapid, reliable postage was essential for forces stations abroad.
    In 1941, the United States established seven APOs within the Atlantic; the last to be established before war broke out was APO 804 at Fort Simonds, Jamaica, on 17 November 1941. Postage at the time was based off geographical location without any exemptions for U.S. Military. As an example, the highest postage rate before WWII was 50 Cents per half ounce to the Naval Post Office in the Philippines.
    On Jan. 7, 1942, the first military based postal course was added to the Adjutant General's Officer Candidate School. Shortly after the opening of this course, on Jan. 29, 1942, the Army Postal Service began operations in Northern Ireland as the first United States troops landed in Great Britain for the European Theater of World War II.
    During WWII, it was estimated that a postal service of one officer and 11 Soldiers served about 7,500 to 10,000 troops, with approximately 1,000 APOs used between 1941 and the end of 1945. Many APOs were numbered based on the unit identification –for example APO 1 serviced the 1st Infantry Division – while other APOs were numbered based on geographical location, such as APOs 825 through 837 assigned to specific bases in the Canal Zone and APOs 931 through 949 were assigned to Western Canada and Alaska. The rest of the APO numbers were assigned randomly with no specific sequence.
    World War II saw the introduction of Victory Mail, or V-mail, by an act of Congress on March 27, 1942. Service Members of the Armed Forces deployed overseas could send personal letters in addition to V-Mail for free as long as they wrote "Free" in the upper right corner of the envelope including their name, rank, and military branch with their return address in the upper left corner. Today the secretary of defense can authorize this service for Soldiers serving in combat zones. V-mail was reproduced on microfilm, allowing more letters to be sent through air without having to compete for space with military supplies. As many as 1,500 letters could be reproduced onto a 5 ounce reel of 16mm microfilm. This saved about 98% of cargo space compared to traditional mail, and the recipient was provided with a photographic print of the letter about one-quarter of its original size.
    Members of the 6888th Central Postal Battalion, the first and only African-American Women’s Army Corps unit deployed overseas during World War II.
    Both Free Mail and Victory Mail ended by 1947 for Soldiers serving overseas in World War II, and as Soldiers began returning home, the MPS transitioned to a partial military staff. The Free Mail program would once again be approved for service members deployed during the Korean War on July 12, 1950, under Public Law No. 609. This proved a great asset as it allowed Soldiers to stay in touch with their Families despite the temporary ban on regular mail to the region under Order No. 43583 issued two days prior. While the original ordinance was only intended to last until June 30. 1951, it was extended to June 30, 1953, and then again to 1955 to encompass wounded Soldiers who needed to remain in overseas medical facilities.
    On average during the Korean War, 11 tons of mail came into theater daily. This vast volume of mail for the relatively small region exceeded available aircraft space, ultimately leading to restrictions on size and weight of airmail. Furthermore, to aid in the timeliness of transporting mail to Soldiers, all mail destined to the Korean theater was consolidated on the west coast and labeled “Trans-Pacific,” including some mail designated for British Forces identified by a “via England” label. This system was so effective that there are accounts of Soldiers receiving mail less than an hour after arriving into theater. The system required this efficiency as Soldiers relied on the post office for not only morale, but special entitlements such as combat pay, where Soldiers were required to submit a DD Form 667 through the Post office for approval.
    Military mail offloaded from merchant ship in Korea, 1951.
    During the 1960s and the beginning of the Vietnam Conflict, postal units were directly assigned to theater-level commands. The theater Adjutant Generals’ office provided oversight to postal units in Europe aligning directly under the U.S. Army European Command, and postal units in Japan fell under U.S. Army Japanese Command, with other postal units having similar command relationships. Joint Military Mail Terminals (JMMT) were established in New York and San Francisco where mail designated to the European theater moved through the New York JMMT and mail designated to the Pacific Theater, to include Vietnam, moved through the San Francisco JMMT. Though the JMMTs acted as a consolidation point for military mail going to and arriving from overseas locations, the United States Postal Service facilitated the movement of mail to and from military mail terminals abroad, where postal units would further transport mail as needed.
    The Vietnam Theater grew to 13 postal units operating up to 24 Postal offices. Postal Soldiers were given individual deployment orders units for one-year tours. To keep up with postal demands the relatively newly formed Unites States Postal Service began implementing programs such as Parcel Air Lift, where mail would be put on civilian and other non-standard cargo flights with extra room, a practice that is still conducted today. Knowing the importance of mail, and its role in upkeep of morale, the Army started using green, waterproof bags to drop mail to units in remote locations from helicopters in Vietnam. This practice was quickly abandoned as mail was becoming lost as Soldiers were unable to find the bags within the jungle. Throughout the 1970s the US Military maintained postal operations throughout Europe and the Pacific, initiating some postal reform operations.
    In 1980, the Military Postal Service Agency was established. In 1982, CENTCOM designated CENTAF as its single service manager which led to the activation of the 4401st Air Postal Squadron in 1986, who would later deploy to Saudi Arabia on Aug. 15, 1990, in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. By Aug. 1, 1990, there were 11 military post offices operating under 13 Air Force postal specialists, supporting approximately 5,500 personnel in Military Assistance Programs, embassies, and naval ships. Free Mail was once again authorized by the secretary of defense on Oct. 11, 1990, greatly increasing the volume of mail in the contingency environment.
    The Persian Gulf War witnessed 203 military post offices operating in Southwest Asia; this time the post offices were manned by more than 1,300 full-time postal specialists servicing half a million personnel in theater. During the peak of operations, the Military Airlift Command moved 150 to 170 tons of mail each day to Southwest Asia, accounting for approximately 90 percent of the mail delivered to the area. The postal support of military operations would once again shape federal policies as the mail volumes witnessed in the Gulf War pushed the Federal Aviation Administration to emplace postal security measures such as X-rays, DOD-certified bomb dogs, decompression chambers, FAA-certified explosive detection systems, and open parcels inspections prior to acceptance by military post offices. These innovative screening techniques are still used today for postal and customs operations in theater.
    As the century turned over to the 2000s, changes came to postal units and their structure. The Army’s postal operations previously fell underneath the responsibilities of personnel services battalions, but alterations in the combat environment called for smaller, more modular units for the service of Soldiers. Human resource companies took on postal operations as the last personnel service battalion cased its colors on June 11, 2008. Operation Iraqi Freedom highlighted additional changes needed for the structure of postal operations. With more than 300 Congressional inquiries during a 9-month period in 2003, the military soon realized there was an inability to track the timeliness of mail and an inability to expand postal services as rapidly as advancing lines. One notable example was JMMTs having to hold on to the mail of Soldiers for more than 23 days between March and April. With the advancement of technology, such as was seen during WWII with Victory Mail, the military introduced Moto Mail, which allowed Family members to email a message to a service whereupon the message was printed at the Army Post Office and delivered to the recipient. This service was available until September 30, 2013, when it was discontinued due to the expanse of internet capabilities within deployed environments.
    Currently the U.S. Military has a multitude of Army, Air Force, and Fleet Post Offices spread around the globe. One hundred years after the initiation of military mail services, there are 32 varying degrees of military post offices in the CENCTOM Area of Responsibility, and 4 Military Mail Terminals serving as the routing and sorting stations to move mail to and from MPOs. The largest APO within CENTCOM produces a annual revenue of more than $3 million per year. Fleet Post Offices are mobile and are linked to naval vessels, allowing for mail to be sent directly to a naval vessel via the FPO zip code, which is tracked and routes mail to the next port. Today mail is provided to service members in 60 countries at 201 APOs, and 147 FPOs, totaling 818 military ZIP codes, and 1.2 million delivery points. Though the majority of APOs are located throughout Europe, Central Asia and the Pacific, there are a couple APOs operating within the continental U.S., for example the APO at Fort Bragg and other APOs at large military bases.
    At deployed locations where service members are stationed in small numbers, military postal clerks hold the ability to provide postal services through military mail teams. These teams operate with two or three personnel, who travel with the ability to collect letters and packages, provide the appropriate postage, and ensure packages are mailed back to the United States. Service members at out-stations receive mail via unit mail clerks who will pick up mail from the closest APO and deliver it to the service member’s location. U.S. military postal clerks act as an extension of the U.S.P.S. and sign for equipment, such as postal meters and scales, directly from the U.S.P.S to conduct daily operations. Mail movement between the United States and theaters of operation is conducted on cargo aircraft or on planes with passengers; Kalitta Air and DHL are companies which are contracted by the U.S.P.S. for mail transportation to military mail terminals throughout the world. Some parcels, such as registered mail, are transported via U.S. military aircraft to and from the United States.
    Throughout the last 100 years the United States Military has recognized the need for postal services as a morale enhancing and tactical asset. Military members have transported and distributed mail by land, air, and sea assets to get sensitive information to battlefield commanders and some of the most basic items and letters to loved ones. Though not at the forefront on battle postal services are recognized as a crucial planning effort and is a key sustaining factor within the U.S. military’s operations.



    Date Taken: 06.19.2018
    Date Posted: 06.19.2018 05:56
    Story ID: 281450
    Location: BAGRAM AIR FIELD, AF 

    Web Views: 3,826
    Downloads: 2