Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Parcel pissed, Part II

Here I continue my rant regarding the US Post Office, poorly informed postal clerks, and cumbersome policies connected to the act of mailing a package to a deployed military person overseas.

First, it might help to know that when a package goes from Mrs. Bee Balm Gal in upstate New York to her Brave Girl in Afghanistan, no one touches this package except US Postal Service employees, contract carriers, and US military staff.

So WHY am I required to fill out a customs form? WHAT country's CUSTOMS does it pass through?

Last week, I showed up at the branch post office with a typical box of assorted goodies to send to my deployed soldier. I think it contained some boot socks, dried fruit snacks, perhaps some granola bars, some crackers, some canned fruit, stuff like that, all of which I had duly listed on the customs form.

The clerk peered at my customs form for some time before informing me that I had neglected to list the weight of each individual item in the package. He commanded me to fill in this information.

"I don't know what each item weighs, " I told him. "It's snacks and socks. Nothing that I haven't mailed like this before."

But, no, the clerk insisted that I write in the individual weights or he couldn't accept my package.

So I made them up. I just filled in random numbers. This clearly made the clerk nervous but I think he could tell he'd pushed me far enough for one day.

What the hell is this all about? Nine years into the Afghanistan war and we can't make it easy for moms back home to send their soldiers a package of cookies?

I think Postmaster General Jack E. Potter need to hear from a few thousand military moms. He needs to know that his policies and his clerks are unhelpful to families trying to send a bit of cheer to soldiers serving multiple deployments abroad. Here's his email: .

Or you could always send him a letter. Just don't forget to put a stamp on it:
Jack E. Potter
Postmaster General
U.S. Postal Service
475 L'Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, DC 20260-0010

Photo credit:

Parcel pissed, Part I

I'm an Army mom and I'm mad. Fed up. Parcel pissed, you might say.
For the past couple of years, I've sent a fair number of packages overseas to military addresses. Not only to my own Army daughter and son-in-law, both currently deployed in Afghanistan for the second time, but also to an "adopted" soldier through Blue Star Mothers.
And this summer, I became a volunteer for Operation Paperback, sending gently used books to deployed servicemen and women who have requested them.

I have encountered many frustrations in my nearly weekly quests to ship packages to APO addresses abroad.
Let's take today, for example. I showed up at my local Malta post office branch with my two parcels, all correctly packaged, forms filled out, and the clerk tells me that I can't send my box of paperbacks overseas via media mail (this is the least expensive way to send books.)
I tell her, politely, that I CAN do this, that I do it regularly. My voice is low and calm.

No, no, she says, I'm quite sure you can't.

I assure her again that this is quite permissible.

Well, she says. I'll check but I'm fairly sure you can't. Pause. Oh, I guess you can.

No apology for giving me incorrect information.

Variations of this scene play out nearly every week. And it happens at almost every post office branch I go into. Clerks routinely tell me, incorrectly, that I can't do something or that my customs form isn't filled out properly or that they can't accept the package as addressed.

Twice I've returned home, a sixty-year-old lady lugging heavy boxes back and forth unnecessarily, because the information given to me by postal clerks was wrong.

Well, these days, I don't budge. I've looked up regulations online enough times that I now KNOW I am doing things the right way.

In case you suspect that I am just a befuddled granny and that these problems are somehow my fault, here's what the Operation Paperback website advises its volunteers about going to the post office:

•You may be told that Media Mail cannot be sent to an APO / FPO. This is not true. Tell the clerk to look up the zip code restrictions. They are sometimes on the second screen of their console.

•You may be told that because you have included our standard shipping notice that the entire box cannot be sent Media Mail. This is not true. Tell the clerk that Postal Regulation DMM 173 – Media Mail, Section 4.3 states that the nature of our "written addition" qualifies under "Instructions and directions for the use of the item mailed."

•Take a copy of DMM 173 to the Post Office just in case! DMM 173 is available online ( This sounds extreme, but it has worked for our volunteers in the past!

The war in Afghanistan has been going on for nine years now. Shouldn't the US Post Office have all of this stuff down pat by now?