The unsung postal warriors of Det 5

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Andrew Cauley, a mail processing specialist with the USAFE- AFAFRICA Air Postal Squadron, Detachment Five, secures a transport truck as he prepares packages for transportation from RAF Alconbury, England on April 10, 2020. The Detachment Five postal team continue to maintain operational readiness during COVID 19 as the central postal distribution hub for U.S. service members stationed in the United Kingdom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Brian Kimball)
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Andrew Cauley, a mail processing specialist with the USAFE- AFAFRICA Air Postal Squadron, Detachment Five, secures a transport truck as he prepares packages for transportation from RAF Alconbury, England on April 10, 2020. The Detachment Five postal team continue to maintain operational readiness during COVID 19 as the central postal distribution hub for U.S. service members stationed in the United Kingdom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Brian Kimball)

The unsung postal warriors of Det 5

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

On a blustery afternoon in late December, the cold permeates through the vast warehouse on RAF Alconbury. A buzzer goes off, the doors open, and music booms through speakers to help set the mood. The conveyer belt springs to life and a seemingly endless river of packages flows from the back of a truck into the building. A group of airmen and a few volunteers feverishly check the tags and place them into holding cells, bound for destinations throughout the U.K. and around the globe. Once those packages are offloaded, the conveyor reverses course. An airman grabs a handheld scanner and is perched over the belt, ready to scan the barcodes of the outgoing parcels. Boxes, packages and trays full of holiday greetings are removed from their respective areas and loaded on to the waiting truck, like a life-size game of Tetris. It feels like a carefully orchestrated dance, but for the airmen of USAFE Air Postal Squadron (AIRPS) Detachment 5 (Det 5) it’s all in a day’s work.

For mere mortals, it seems as if packages and mail magically appear at the post office. However, there is a lengthy process it goes through to get there. Here’s what happens when my mom sends a package from California: Mom drops off the box at the post office. It is then shipped to Chicago, where it joins other military overseas packages in a facility stretching the length of two football fields. It is then inspected, sorted and put in the U.K. pile, loaded onto an airplane bound for London-Heathrow International Airport. A team offloads the cargo, loads a truck, which is driven to Det 5. The box is offloaded at the warehouse, along with its brethren destined for RAF Alconbury. It is loaded onto a smaller truck and driven over to the post office where they send me a notification email to come pick it up.

Headquartered in Germany, there are four postal detachments geographically located throughout the theater—three of which are based at large international airports. Mail destined for APOs throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East pass through one of these detachments. In 2020, more than 28 million pounds of mail was processed through the USAFE AIRPS. In the U.K., the average volume of mail during the holidays is approximately 57,000 pieces or 783,000 pounds. According to Master Sgt. Jedediah Sherwood, Det 5 experienced an increase in volume of more than 70% this past year. At least one truck from London-Heathrow is received daily; however, it’s normal for two to show up during the holidays. The team also processes seven trucks from APOs scattered around the U.K. each day. It’s a daunting task they perform effortlessly seven days a week.

This past year was not without challenges for Det 5. When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, the transportation routes between the U.S. and U.K. steadily declined, creating limited cargo capacity in the few flights available. In addition, Sherwood states that their location was key to ensuring the record-breaking number of overseas absentee ballots for the 2020 election were received and dispatched expeditiously. In spite of these obstacles, the airmen came up with creative solutions to keep the process flowing.

In the short lulls between processing trucks, the team at Det 5 has become known for its dedication and innovation in administrative functions. In order to better serve the two detachments in the U.K., they recently stood up a fully functional, in-house Commander’s Support Staff (CSS). This helps expedite personnel services without having to rely on the CSS in Germany or the 423rd Force Support Squadron at RAF Alconbury. It also allows the airmen to become fully integrated in administrative and postal duties. The group is keenly aware of their responsibilities. Sherwood notes, “In this new year, the AIRPS Det 5 team will continue to work hard every day knowing the impact they have on the community.”

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