Troops, Congress decry slow Persian Gulf mail WAR IN THE GULF

February 21, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Navy Lt. Gilbert S. Storey, raised in Hagerstown and now stationed in the Persian Gulf, wrote his friend Brad Fulton on Jan. 26 and told of a common complaint among the troops.

"We haven't received any mail since Jan. 5," the lieutenant wrote in the letter that arrived 10 days later in Hagerstown. "Morale could be better, though, if we had a mail delivery."

Staff Sgt. Randolph Grob, a resident of Representative Beverly B. Byron's 6th District, sent her a postcard Jan. 6 from his Air Force tanker base on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It arrived in Mrs. Byron's Frederick office Feb. 14.

"We must take whatever steps necessary to bring the mail service up to standard," Mrs. Byron told a hearing of two House Post Office and Civil Service subcommittees yesterday, echoing complaints from other congressmen, who said mail to and from the Persian Gulf is arriving weeks late -- or not at all.

"Some people [in the gulf] will receive 20 letters, then they'll go for a month with no mail," said the congresswoman, noting a number of constituents have complained about the sluggish delivery system.

"The entire Congress is littered with mail saying, 'You're not doing the job with the mail,' " Representative Frank McCloskey, D-Ind., chairman of the Postal Operations and Services Subcommittee, told U.S. Postal Service and Defense Department officials. One constituent in the gulf waited 52 days to receive his bank statement, said Mr. McCloskey.

But the officials explained that the volume of mail coupled with the lack of transportation and roads in Saudi Arabia are making it difficult to deliver letters to the troops. Still, they hope that impending improvements in the delivery system can cut the average delivery time from the current 14-24 days to 9-13 days.

Assistant Postmaster General Allen R. Kane told House members that mail to Saudi Arabia a year ago was 3,200 pounds per day, while volumes in November and December rose to nearly 520,000 pounds per day.

The Postal Service has opened supplemental sites in New York, Washington and San Francisco and added 666 people to handle the heavy amount of Desert Storm mail, Mr. Kane said. But, he lamented, "It's sort of like flying a plane and building a plane at the same time."

But Army Maj. Gen. Larry Budge, assistant deputy chief of staff ** for personnel, said the Army is acquiring additional forklifts and trucks dedicated only for mail. And the Army will speed mail into King Khalid Military City, a Saudi base, by installing a new mail terminal that will allow planes bearing mail to fly directly into the city. Currently, mail is trucked to the city from Riyadh, about 240 miles southeast.

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