Thursday, November 12, 2009
How to give serving personnel a Merry Christmas
As the season of good will is nearly upon us, the British public are being urged to help the forces as much as possible by refraining from sending Christmas parcels to troops in Afghanistan.
Soldiers serving in theatre are literally being overwhelmed by support from the British public who generously post unsolicited parcels, putting a massive strain on the Forces Post Office in Camp Bastion, resulting in packages from friends and family taking longer to reach the intended recipients.
Many of the parcels are addressed to chaplains who have long left theatre, but whose legacy continues. The intention is that the current generation of padres will distribute the parcels to troops on the front line.
Padre Richard Downes, who is the British chaplain at Camp Bastion, said:
"The Enduring Families Free Mail Service enables families and close friends of Service personnel to send packages out to theatre. While such unsolicited parcels are without doubt popular with recipients, the all-important personal mail from soldiers' families becomes significantly delayed.
"Occasionally the perceived needs of recipients have become somewhat confused, as one chaplain discovered to his dismay when he opened a welfare parcel addressed to him personally, but which contained amongst other things a glossy pin-up calendar!"
Only a small fraction of the unsolicited parcels make it to the front line, the rest are processed by staff in Camp Bastion and the contents held in storage in welfare rest areas and churches until they can be sent on.
Some of the contents, including toiletry items, lie untouched for months at a time and one chaplain reported that he had 70 brand new toothbrushes in the back of his church in a Forward Operating Base (FOB).
In response to the growing problem, the Ministry of Defence is working with the forces charity SSAFA to enable generous members of the public to donate money to the charity as an alternative to sending parcels.
The Operational Welfare Fund is focused on providing support direct to the front line and enables commanders on the ground to bid for those items which they know will boost the troops' morale.
Padre Downes said:
"The postal service puts on a massive extra push at Christmas and put extra flights on to get the stuff here. But getting the mail out to the FOBs also takes longer, as mail must fit in around operational transport priorities.
"I thank the British public for their support but I would ask that they keep the pressure off the postal system over the Christmas period. The British military are a generous bunch and the troops will always share with those whose parcels may have been held up."