As the Christmas post deadline of 3 December approaches for Armed Forces personnel serving overseas, servicemen and women are urging members of the public not to send unsolicited gifts and packages to operational theatres such as Afghanistan. While these kind sentiments are appreciated, such generosity has often resulted in delaying important mail from family and friends reaching their destination at this special time of year.
Every year the British Forces Post Office (BFPO) is overwhelmed by the generosity of the public who send individuals, and groups, in operational theatres boxes of treats. Although well-intentioned, the message is very clear: if people wish to show their support for those serving in Afghanistan, there are far more effective ways of doing so such as donations to Service charities.
Speaking from RAF Brize Norton, BFPO spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Brett Duxbury said: "As with every year, the Christmas post period is by far our busiest. Just this week we dispatched more than 10,500 bags of mail to operational theatres, which will arrive in time for Christmas Day. Unsolicited mail can seriously impact on our ability to deliver post from loved ones to personnel serving on operations at Christmas.
Parcels are coming in thick and fast to the military's premier transport hub of RAF Brize Norton, via the BFPO, and have been loaded onto aircraft ready for dispatch. Hundreds of Service personnel are working hard to ensure that this mail is delivered alongside other vital supplies such as helicopters, armoured vehicles and lifesaving equipment.
The volume of mail arriving at Camp Bastion for onward distribution to other locations in Afghanistan can cause other problems. The onward delivery of goodwill parcels to forward operating bases necessitates additional resupply flights and convoys, which places Service personnel at additional risk in what is already a difficult and dangerous operating environment. Every time an additional convoy is laid on, more troops are put at risk of enemy attack.
The type of items included in many welfare parcels are either already readily available in theatre or are simply not appropriate for the Afghan environment. Not only does this mean that the items go to waste, but time and resources have to be diverted from crucial operations to organise their disposal.
Minister of State for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, Mark Francois, said: "This Government is dedicated to the care and welfare of the men and women of our Armed Forces, particularly those deployed on operations. This is reflected in the Deployed Welfare Package, a key part of which is the safe and timely delivery of free personal mail from family and friends. Whilst unsolicited mail is well-intentioned, mail sent by families and friends is the most important to deployed personnel and is our absolute priority. Moreover, unsolicited mail strains the logistics supply and prevents mail from families getting through. For this reason the MOD will be repeating its unsolicited mail campaign. Rather than sending their own letter or parcel, I would encourage people to make a donation to one of Britain's excellent Service charities."
The last recommended Christmas posting date for personnel on Her Majesty's ships is Friday 30 November 2012, and for Operation HERRICK and Operation KIPION is Monday 3 December 2012.