Issue Date: May 10, 2004

Returned to sender all too often

By Karen Jowers
Times staff writer

Army 1st Lt. Spence Burnett returned with the 3rd Infantry Division to Fort Stewart, Ga., from Iraq on Aug. 25.

But some of his mail endured a much longer deployment.

In early February, he received a letter his wife mailed to Iraq on June 5. “A lot of soldiers have been getting mail recently,” he said. “It’s like they found a stack of mail all at once.”

Burnett didn’t realize how close to the truth he was.

On Jan. 1, a 20-foot container stuffed with 3rd Infantry Division mail that somehow fell off everyone’s radar was found at Camp Virginia, Kuwait, with letters and packages dating as far back as the previous March.

“The circumstances of how this container became unaccounted for are still unknown,” Military Postal Service Agency officials said in a written statement.

Postal-operations officials with the 3rd Personnel Command in Iraq found that the container was dispatched from the Kuwait Mail Terminal on June 18 and arrived at Camp New York in Kuwait that day, properly signed for.

From there, it went to Camp New Jersey, then to Camp Virginia, also both in Kuwait, and apparently was parked and forgotten for six months. When it was rediscovered, it went back to the Kuwait Mail Terminal, where its contents finally were processed — with most pieces stamped “Return to Sender.”

Officials said the reasons for the circuitous odyssey are “pure speculation,” but stressed this was “an isolated incident.”

“This is a very unfortunate event for the family members and the soldiers, and 3rd Personnel Command ... has taken a proactive approach to ensure an incident like this does not happen again.”

But this hardly is the only case of mail being returned to senders long after delivery.

Frankie Mayo, who runs Operation Air Conditioner, an effort to send cooling units to troops in Iraq — along with boots, goodies and other items — said she accumulated enough returned mail to fill a 12-foot-by-12-foot storage shed at her Delaware home.

“I’m really shocked at the amount of boots I’ve gotten back,” she said. “I know these [service members] are out there.”

Burnett said troops understand mail delivery is more difficult in a war zone than in peacetime.

“But it’s a different story when we receive mail ... that was sent eight months ago,” he said.

Back to top

Copyright © 2004
Use of this site signifies your agreement to the Terms of Service.