The Life of a Box

On Monday we packed up around forty-five military flat rate shipping boxes to be sent over to Afghanistan, with more to follow in the coming weeks. Each box was carefully filled, taped up, and labeled. All of our hard work and labor is finally coming to fruition, and it feels really satisfying to see such concrete progress. The effort doesn’t end with dropping the boxes off at the post office, however. There are still many steps to go through until those supplies end up in the hands of needy children.

So what exactly takes place? Well, first the packages are sorted in the post office and individually cataloged by postal workers. They need to have every package on record so that they don’t lose any. Now, military mail is shipped from three locations, New York, Miami, and San Francisco, so that means our school supplies will be enjoying sunny sea shores for a bit longer.

Miami is almost 300 miles away, so it’s likely that they will be shipped using a cargo plane.

Shipping Cargo

Shipping cargo via plane.

That means that they will be put into a large domed shipping container that fits perfectly into the plane’s hold, or perhaps just packed up and shipped with other freight. The USPS has it’s own planes that can do shipping if it is a well traveled route but quite often they make use of planes from other shipping companies, such as FedEx.

Once the packages get to Miami they are once again sorted, traveling along extensive pathways of conveyor belts. They will get put with other items being sent overseas, most likely with other military boxes.

Boxes being shipped for military purposes have stricter rules to follow outside of those imposed by customs. They for instance are no longer allowed to be addressed to “any soldier” as was once allowed in the past (as opposed to the anonymous “to current resident” we get in our home mailboxes) and they may not contain obscene material, nudity, or pork. We, of course, already took great care that no one tried to slip anything objectionable into the donated supplies.

The packages will once again be placed onto a plane, along with the rest of the packages destined for foreign climes. The route here will probably be more direct as it will most likely go via military plane, ending up directly at a base in Afghanistan, probably Kabul, though it might make a couple pit stops along the way.

After being sorted in Kabul, the packages will be sent to a base where one of our volunteers is stationed. He will then arrange to form a convoy to one of the areas he knows can make use of the supplies, or else have a convoy already destined for one of these areas take on the extra packages along with whatever they might be doing. He will have to do this many times, as the journey to each of the places he visits is a large scale event, and it is best to give the supplies to a variety of people instead of a single school. No troop is allowed to go unescorted anywhere in Afghanistan so our care packages are always traveling under armed guard. The countryside is still a very dangerous place, but like us the troops are very dedicated to giving the Afghan people a better future. Convoys bring food and medical aid, and, with our help, school supplies to whomever needs them.

So, while our own personal journeys are coming to an end as the semester winds down, for others it has just begun…

Spc. Carlos Caballero, a Mississippi National Guard member with the 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, hustles as he sorts a holiday package at the Army Post Office on Kandahar Air Field, Nov. 25, 2010

Spc. Carlos Caballero, a Mississippi National Guard member with the 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, hustles as he sorts a holiday package at the Army Post Office on Kandahar Air Field, Nov. 25, 2010. During the holiday mail surge, Caballero and fellow postal workers at the KAF APO sort an average of 70,000 pounds of mail a day. At the peak of the mail surge, the workers will sort 125,000 pounds of mail a day. (Photo by Natalie Cole, 1st Sustainment Command (Theater) Public Affairs)

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