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Cpl. Aaron Rooks
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
The sun had come up only a few hours before. The temperature was cool, not typical of the average morning heat in the Helmand desert.
Lance Cpl. Ricky Southers had just arrived back at his tent, his home away from home, after working for more than 12 hours the night before as a personnel clerk at the Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan administration section.
Anyone could tell his spirits were still high as he sat on his cot in the dark tent, surrounded by other cots and gear that occupied the dusty floor, with one light above illuminating the Moore, Okla., native’s face.
He had a content, carefree expression on his face as he reached into the black, plastic footlocker by his cot. His expression became even more optimistic as he pulled out a stack of small letters, which he said were sent by his wife, who is staying with her family in Massachusetts while he is here.
He quietly read one of the letters.
“I miss you so much, please come home,” he said. “We need to go on a huge, sweet vacation when you come back.”
Some of the letters in Southers’ hand were new, some were old. He had received the letters, known as Motomail, from his wife and other family members almost every day since he arrived here 21 days ago. They’re all pieces of home he still holds close.
“My wife is now seeing firsthand what it’s like to be a Marine wife with a husband gone,” he said. “That’s what makes being gone hard for me, because I know it’s hard for her. With Motomail, I at least know she’s alright.”
Motomail, which was introduced only a few years ago, is a letter that can be delivered to deployed Marines 24 to 48 hours after it’s submitted on the Internet, at www.motomail.us, said Sgt. Daniel Balarezo, the assistant operations chief at the Camp Leatherneck Post Office.
Balarezo said this new medium of mail delivery allows Marines to hear from loved ones almost daily if they desire, while regular mail can take up to two weeks to reach Camp Leatherneck.
“I’m grateful they came up with the idea,” Southers said. “Whenever they do mail call, and you see your name come by, you get excited. We now have something to look forward to all the time because of it.”
Motomail, which comes in print and photo versions, has been flowing into Leatherneck as often as the thick dust that settles daily on the camp. Lance Cpl. Margaret Podgwaite, a postal clerk from Cheshire, Conn., said an average of 1,000 Motomail and 600 Photomail pieces come in each day. In a week’s time, she said, those number average 10,000 and 6,000, respectively.
“It’s making the deployment go by a lot easier,” said Lance Cpl. Dustin Pokorny, administrative clerk, MEB-A. “Everyone is more at ease because they constantly know what’s going on back home. It’s definitely a lot better than what I experienced when I was in Afghanistan back in 2005. We wouldn’t get mail for at least a month, sometimes more.”
Balarezo, a Miami native, said Motomail is a good way to keep the morale high until real letters from home arrive, which he said he feels is the biggest morale booster available. And due to advances in mail services to deployed environments, he said, Marines don’t have to wait that long anymore.
“We have received mail in as little as three to five days,” Balarezo said. “Everyone in the MEB understands the value of getting mail from home, so everyone is willing to make the extra effort to help out in the delivery process. Marines volunteer all the time to sort mail and other units help in coordinating immediate transportation of mail to forward operating bases and combat outposts throughout the country. Because of this, the mail service is much better for everyone.”
Balarezo said another helpful advancement in mail service is military flat-rate packaging offered by the United States Postal Service. Participants receive boxes, customs forms and pre-addressed shipping labels, which family members then use to send mail to their deployed loved ones for a flat rate of $10.35.
Southers discovered the packaging service when he learned that his wife tried to send two packages to him. The shipping fees were $126.
“She was upset,” Southers explained. “That’s a lot of money to send two packages to someone serving overseas. Luckily a lady behind her paid for the packages entirely. I was at ease to learn that someone helped my wife when she needed it.”
He found out about the event the day after it occurred … through Motomail.