2nd Class Shopping: Living in spite of the Military Postal System


“I’m tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.”  ~ Rosa Parks

“I get mail; therefore I am.”  ~Scott Adams

“The constitution does not provide for first and second class citizens.”  ~ Wendell L. Willkie

 

Anime mail delivery in Japan

Anime mail delivery in Japan

 

“So how long will it take to get that special order,” I eagerly ask the Base Exchange (BX) supervisor, thinking that I had found a solution to my growing outdoor storage needs.  After trying various staff and two stores, I finally found an employee who seemed to be able to talk with some knowledge and authority.

“Six months.”

I double over laughing, literally, in the man’s face.  “S I X   M O N T H S!?!?!” I say incredulously, but with a look of total disdain for this the military’s inertia-driven, bureaucratically-burdened attempt at providing commercial shopping services….

“That’s what we’re supposed to say.  I have seen it take as little as 3 months,” came a completely serious response.  While smiling, he wasn’t sharing in the ridiculousness of the situation.

Okay, I understand a large plastic outdoor storage shed is large and heavy, and even bulky.  I understand that it is going to take some time to be shipped overseas…maybe even coming by ship.  But I never assumed that ox-driven, covered-wagons of the 1800s Oregon Trail would be a faster mode of transport than dealing with the Military Postal System….

I would prefer the time-tested method of Trebuchet, but we are unfortunately out of range....

I would prefer the time-tested method of Trebuchet, but we are unfortunately out of range….

I have written about mail before, particularly about the magic that receiving snail mail can illicit (read Snail Mail).  However, after having resided on Okinawa now for seven months, it’s time to re-address (get it – re-address?!?) my conclusions….

You see, we have an overseas military address here in Okinawa, even though we live out in town.  That means that our mail is handled and delivered by the Military Postal System (MPS).  The MPS is designed to handle the mail between America and the military, but at no additional cost to the service member.  In other words, when we mail a package here, we are only paying the coast to ship from San Francisco (where our mail goes) to its ultimate destination stateside.

With a process diagram like this, what on earth could go wrong?

With a detailed process flow diagram like this, what on earth could go wrong?

Except that the MPS doesn’t deliver, rain or shine.  In fact, it doesn’t deliver at all.  We have to go to a base and check our (Military) Post Office box.  And even though Jody – the military member in our case – works on one base (Camp Foster) in a brand-new hospital, apparently no one thought about including a mailroom or mail center to support this rather large command.  So, our mailbox is located on another base, and while on Jody’s way home from work, it’s on the wrong side of a very busy road (requiring a right turn, equivalent to our left), and, of course, it seems to be closed as often as the petroleum industry raises oil prices, and much for the same reasons.  “Unrest in Syria?  Shit, let’s close and do some ‘training’.”  “More terror attacks in the Middle East?  Well, let’s close for Force Protection.  And those uniforms just make us stand out like sore thumbs….”

Exactly how I feel when we visit our MPS Post Office

Exactly how I feel when we visit our MPS Post Office

Oh, and besides being complete inconvenient for me (it’s the other way from where I work and most places I habitually go), we were initially only issued ONE KEY to our PO Box.  Fother-muckers.  This is where the government fails the most:  claiming “too expensive” and “accountability issues” at the complete discomfort of the customer and failure in their very mission of getting us our mail!  Yes, like Rosa Park’s opening quote, I too tire of being treated like a 2nd Class Citizen.  Maybe I could stage a sit-down on a delivery truck.

If they would only focus on actually delivering our mail, instead of obsessing over its packaging….

Stop focusing on DOD and focus on, say, THE MAIL!

Stop focusing on DOD and focus on, say, THE MAIL!

PO-box-fullThat’s not enough though.  The thugs and hooligans working at the Navy’s Post Office on Camp Lester are, in a thin-slicing of their capability, undependable at best, and downright negligent at their worst.  While it’s not their fault we have a tiny mail box designed to hold only normal-sized letter mail, such restrictions shouldn’t challenge them to creatively bend, fold, and otherwise mutilate our oversized mail and literally stuff it so tightly in the slot that it’s hard to remove.  No, they don’t want to take the extra step of filling out a package notice and placing oversized mail aside for reasonable pickup.  They are never in uniform, at least when I’m there, although I’m told that they are Active Duty Navy enlisted.  They certainly don’t act like it; on more than one occasion, I’ve had to ask an “employee” there to take off his oversized headphones in order to conduct business with me.  Oh, and our address isn’t hard:  last name “KING” and “BOX 46;” from the amount of erroneously “delivered” mail we get, I’m unsure that basic math was part of their ASVAB testing.  While getting mail for another “King” in Box 14 can be understandable, getting mail for “Kong” in box 1032 is not, unless you really stretch and connect our names as, wait for it:  King-Kong.  I actually feel so strongly about the First Class mess that is this 3rd Rate Post Office where I’m treated as a 2nd Class Citizen for actually wanting my mail delivered, correctly and without damage, that I no longer go to pick up mail.  I love to get mail, but the experience of this MPS negates any such joy or comfort.

Our "postal" clerks (and they are postal) would be great at this old game....

Our “postal” clerks (and they are postal) would be great at this old game….

Now, to be fair, this is – thank goodness – NOT the case on the Air Force Base here.  The Air Force’s Post Office is really every bit as good as any USPS back home, if not better.  It’s full service, clean, organized, well-lit and professionally staffed.  Oh, and looky-see, the military members are actually in uniform and provide courteous and efficient service…all without the aid of headphones!  We have not had an issue using this post office, and this is the only one I will use…although the Marine Corps post office on Camp Foster is well-run too.

lost-in-the-mail

BUT, the core issue of our 2nd Class Citizenry is a problem shared by any and all military members stationed outside of “CONUS” (the continental United States):  we have military addresses.  What does that mean?  That means that large swaths of commercial America do not or cannot service us at our military FPO or APO addresses….

Fleet Post Offices (FPO, for the Navy and Marine Corps) and Army Post Offices (APO, for the Army and Air Force) serve in place of the city in our address.  The state block of addresses is replaced, in our case, with an AP, referring to “Armed Forces Pacific.”  There are other codes, such as “AE” if you live in Europe, and so on.  So, if we want something shipped to us here to be picked up with our normal military mail, we enter “FPO, AP” for city and state.  While most vendors’ online ordering and shipping systems will allow “FPO” to be typed in for city, many systems do no offer “AP” in their pull-down menus, which negates us from ordering.  While the situation is MUCH better than it was in 1991 during my first deployment, it still creeps up too many times to brush away.  It’s really shameful in my opinion that so many companies and businesses fail to account for a sizeable portion of Americans living overseas – especially the ones that talk about “supporting the troops.”  It makes us (or at least me) feel like 2nd Class Citizens, or at least 2nd Class postage.

lost mail cartoon

I ran into this recently with my dive organization, PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors).  The subcontractor they use for online commercial transactions decided to upgrade PADI’s web portal for shopping, but in their upgrade, failed to account for overseas military addresses.  Compounding the problem, PADI has decided to use only FEDEX and UPS for shipping, while MPS addresses can only receive mail from the USPS.  That’s double jeopardy for people like us overseas.  Believe me, I have expressed my concerns as a 2nd Class citizen via both email and phone, but with little effect.

Mail-topia, our dream.  Except for the bullet bra.

Mail-topia, our dream. Except for the bullet bra.

I still hope that we receive mail often in Japan.  Although the letter dance I so happily wrote about previously in Snail Mail results in stepped-on toes here in Okinawa, snail mail – and packages – are certainly no less emotionally comforting.

As for the 6-month “Special Order” from the Base Exchange?  I’ll save our MPS thugs and hooligans the challenge (and pleasure) of attempting to stuff that gigantic package into our PO Box.

~ Far East Fling, PSC 482 Box 46, FPO AP 96362-0100

I would prefer this delivery method....

I would prefer this delivery method….

2 thoughts on “2nd Class Shopping: Living in spite of the Military Postal System

    • While I haven’t had a chance to listen to this report, if indeed true, it’s very disturbing. Already I have some serious issues with the MPS, as you might tell from this blog. I’ll comment more when I’ve had a chance to review your link. Many thanks for the comment and Far East Flyby!!

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