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    At Benelux, 'mail equals morale'

    Post Office Holiday Mail

    Photo By Libby Weiler | USAG Benelux postal workers at Chièvres Air Base, Belgium process holiday mail Dec....... read more read more



    Story by Jessica Abbas 

    U.S. Army Garrison Benelux

    BRUNSSUM, Netherlands – “This is the time of year we live for,” said Josh Alo, postmaster at U.S. Army Garrison Benelux - Brussels. “Even in the digital age where so much is online, it is the little pieces of home that keeps us connected to one another.”

    Across USAG Benelux, team members and volunteers work to meet the demands both of the holiday season and the ongoing pandemic.

    “Last year we had a 20 percent increase in volume of mail we processed, and that has been sustained due to online shopping and ever-changing COVID-19 measures that drive how we gain our goods,” said Alo. “So we’re definitely busy!”

    “It’s an honest day’s work,” said Alan Boswell, postmaster at USAG Benelux-Brunssum, the Netherlands. “It is hard work but at the end of the day we’ve accomplished something good, something where they (each employee) can go home and hold their head up about knowing they have helped people get their mail.

    “Being able to care for friends and family in this manner is a good thing!” Boswell continued.

    The postal service centers operate at four physical locations across the Benelux: Chièvres Air Base, Brussels and SHAPE in Belgium and Brunssum in the Netherlands. The Brunssum site also conducts weekly mail calls to APS-Dülmen. Their mission extends beyond the walls as part of a larger transportation network.

    “Our combined efforts help support the embassies, NATO, port operations and ensure mail for you personally and officially is accessible,” said Alo.

    USAG Benelux postal service centers support approximately 5,000 customers and 139 official units. And as of publication of this article, this holiday season the Benelux postal service centers have received and processed 11,779 mail pieces weighing in at 67,848 kilograms, the equivalent of almost 150,000 pounds of mail.

    “I’ve seen a lot of changes from the beginning from when we didn’t have computers and everything was handwritten,” said Wes Cook postmaster at SHAPE. “Yet, everything is still the same, it’s just processed differently and we don’t use a lot of ink anymore. It’s computerized now.”

    “What you see at the customer service counter for retail services is a small portion of what our teams do every day,” said Alo. “If you were to pull back the curtain, there’s a lot that goes into processing mail.”

    Alo, Boswell and Cook collectively explained the rigors of the postal service include regular mandatory training and daily electronic documentation, inspections, accounting procedures, customer service and the physical aspect of processing mail from unloading trucks to scanning, sorting, delivering and receiving items from customers and preparing outgoing shipments. Each step and function requires acute attention to detail, accuracy, stamina and, most important, enthusiasm.

    Postal service employees are not permitted to take leave during the holiday season, they answer the call to serve and leave is paused for all until January.

    “I’m used to this arrangement during the holiday season,” said Boswell. “I got out of the military in 1993 and a couple months after I got out ironically enough I started as a seasonal hire, and here I am today the postmaster.

    “We’re here to help,” he continued. “We are prideful about our ability to deliver 100% of the packages during this season.”

    New internal tracking technology that rolled out this summer has helped improve postal operations. Nevertheless, with each location processing between 500 and 3,000 pieces of mail a day, errors can occur.

    “We deliver thousands of mail pieces a week but that one piece that a customer says they didn’t have or we didn’t find, we go through our records and our shelves with a fine-tooth comb to find it,” said Boswell. “We take it personally and don’t sleep until we can resolve the issue.”

    “It’s so easy to make a single mistake that we have to have a quality control system in place to check one another’s work and that helps tremendously,” said Cook.

    Having served in the armed forces prior to their current positions, they know firsthand the importance of mail for service members and their Families stationed away from home.

    “Customers are coming to the post office to see if they’ve got mail and when they do many times they respond with excitement whether that’s a package or letter or card,” said Alo. “It means so much and it’s why we do what we do.”

    “I got a card recently for my birthday, and it was the best thing ever!” continued Alo. “We do so much on technology, which is great, but the tangible effort that comes from the physical pieces of mail, it’s different. Someone took time to buy a card and stamp, write a note and post it to me … and our customers, our Soldiers and their Families, it’s the same for them.”

    “We not only deliver mail but also have the responsibility for what the customers bring us and make sure it’s gets to its destination,” said Boswell. “We know how hard it is especially with all the COVID measures, the separation, mail is a way for people to connect and send something home.”

    Even with the demands from the season and the pandemic, the team continues to enjoy a bit of levity that arrives from time to time with the mail trucks.

    “Back in the early days of COVID when the stores would only give you so many shopping carts someone actually ordered a shopping cart that arrived on our truck,” said Cook. “Not sure if they kept it, but that was funny.”

    And the teams appreciate the generosity from members of the community.

    “Customers bring us treats, cookies and cakes throughout the year and before the holidays,” said Shawn Mestres, postal operations supervisor at Chièvres Air Base. “It’s not necessary but it is very much appreciated.”

    Mestres explained in the final week before Christmas there’s an even bigger push internally to make sure all the mail possible is pushed out to customers in time to have presents under the tree.

    “We’re here to help our community,” said Mestres. “And to see the smiles when you give out a package even if someone is having a bad day, you give them the mail or a package, they always smile!”

    “Bottom line,” said Alo “mail equals morale!”

    The team also offered up some tips and reminders to help the community.

    “When folks are notified they have mail, picking up your packages is key; it keeps things moving,” said Alo. “And it helps us help other customers and get things to you as quickly as possible.”

    “If we didn’t need it we wouldn’t ask for it,” said Boswell referencing customs and shipping forms. “Sometimes people don’t like the systems we’re required to use and it can be difficult at times but we’ll come alongside them to help with the problem or the issue, just ask.”

    Boswell also recommended setting up an appointment in case customers have five or more packages to mail.

    “Please call the post office at your location for VIP services and an appointment,” said Boswell. “Our focus is on you!”

    And as a closing note, all remind the community December 24 and 31 are federal holidays this year. With the exception of Postal Service Center 79 at Brussels, which is open for package pick-up only from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 24, the postal service centers will be closed and everyone is encouraged to stop by before or after for all your holiday postal needs.


    This holiday season will be Cook’s final working for USAG Benelux. Following almost 33 years of postal service at SHAPE, he transitions into retirement at the end of 2021.



    Date Taken: 12.21.2021
    Date Posted: 12.21.2021 05:24
    Story ID: 411641
    Location: BRUNSSUM, NL 

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