MONROVIA, Liberia -- For the families of Soldiers currently deployed as part of Joint Forces Command - United Assistance in Liberia, keeping connected to their loved ones deployed in West Africa is crucial. Already, families have been sending thousands of pounds of letters and packages, showing their support for their Soldiers by shipping little pieces of home to them.
On Dec. 22, Soldiers deployed in support of Operation United Assistance were able to mail some love back. The first fully functional Army post office opened for business at Roberts International Airport in Monrovia, allowing Soldiers to buy flat rate boxes, apply postage and send their own care packages back home to their family and friends in the U.S.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Smith, native of Hot Springs, Arkansas, and postal operations non-commissioned officer in charge, or NCOIC, for the 101st Sustainment Brigade, said that after 45 days of hard work and coordination, the mail center is finally up and ready for business.
"It took a lot of coordinating; there was a lot of processing, transporting of materials and mail supplies like labels, flat rate boxes and other packaging supplies," said Smith. "We literally started from scratch here. We had to make sure we had flights dedicated to carrying the mail back to the states, and we even had to coordinate with finance to supply us with enough money to make change for customers."
Smith said that even though getting the post office up and running took a large amount of work and determination, he and his seven-Soldier team were glad to do it.
"I'm the only 42A, or postal specialist; the rest the Soldiers on my team are ammunition specialists," Smith said. "But even though this isn't their usual job, they still performed great. This is actually the first day that the 18th Human Resources Company, an actual postal platoon, has been here and working with us."
Pvt. Sean Engelsen, native of West Palm Beach, Florida, and ammunition specialist for the 101st Sustainment Brigade, said that even though it was an initial shock to be assigned to the mail room, he ended up enjoying his new duties.
"At first I was a bit intimidated when I heard I'd be working in the mail room, but then, after a few days of learning how to decipher the serial numbers and packaging codes, and getting used to the whole process, it actually wasn't that bad," Engelsen said. "Especially with Staff Sgt. Smith as our NCOIC."
Engelsen expressed his enjoyment at being able to help out his fellow Soldiers during the holidays, and now that they are able to both receive and send mail.
"At first it didn't seem like such a big deal to me, handing out the mail," said Engelsen. "But then I thought about it and how excited I feel every time I get a package, and it's actually pretty special, especially so close to Christmas."
Engelsen said that the holiday season has them working harder than ever with just the sheer volume of mail that they have been receiving from families back home.
"We started off getting shipments of about 20,000 pounds of mail, but now that the holidays are coming up our latest shipment was 65,000 pounds," Engelsen said.
Smith agreed that they were getting a lot more incoming mail than usual, but he still expects things to start off slow as far as out-going mail shipments.
"I expect things to start slow," said Smith. "But that is just until word gets out, and then I think we are going to start sending a whole lot more shipments out."
Smith said that he has a lot of faith in the success of the newly opened mail room and that he is proud to have been a part of the initial effort to build it.
"I feel that it is a huge morale boost for Soldiers now that they are able to send home letters, cards, trinkets and even other items that they may have purchased in Africa," said Smith. "I'm grateful that I have been able to be a part of the team that initialized the mail room; I know we have made a lasting impression in theatre."
Smith and his team are always glad to help out their fellow Soldiers, and that they understand the importance that even a letter or a small package from home can have, said Smith.
"It is nice knowing that I have a large impact on the Soldiers here," said Smith. "It's a big deal to them, and now we get to be a part of the process that ensures they are able to keep in contact with their loved ones back home."