A Theater-Wide Impact
By Maj. Michael Bobinis, 50PSB
The 50th Personnel Services Battalion (PSB) returned from Afghanistan
in early March from a challenging but extremely successful 14-month
deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom VII.
The Battalion deployed to Afghanistan at the end of
February 2006. After nineteen hours of flight time and a week’s
worth of waiting for flights, the 50th arrived at Bagram Airfield, the
biggest base in Afghanistan. The PSB linked up with its seven-Soldier
advance party and started relief in place opera- tions. Soldiers were
immediately deployed throughout the Combined Joint Operations Area in
order to provide human resource and postal support to the Warfighters
and area support elements.
Afghanistan is an extremely mountainous land-locked
country located between Iran and Pakistan. The road system is limited
and driving to many locations in the country is impractical. Helicopters
and planes were the 50th’s primary means of transportation throughout
the country although we conducted several dozen combat logistics patrols
between Bagram Airfield and Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
The 50th’s mission was to provide human resources and postal support
to the Combined Joint Task Force 76 in the Afghanistan Combined Joint
Operating Area. It was decided early on to totally revamp human resources
and postal service operations. The Battalion was solely responsible
for the delivery of inbound and outbound United States Postal Service
in Afghanistan. The 50th operated five-Army Post Offices (APO) and several
more mini APOs. We designed the operation to push services as far as
operationally possible. Postal finance clerks were permanently assigned
to 11 major FOBs. Air assets were leveraged to the point where we placed
mail in sling-loaded vehicles to maximize the available space on aircraft.
The changes implemented in the way postal operations were conducted
were massive and had an immediate theater-wide impact. Upon our arrival,
mail delivery schedules were haphazard at best and congressional complaints
involving mail were a common occurrence. Higher headquarters tasked
the 50th to fix the system. Rotary wing routes were adjusted to hit
every FOB at least once a week and 2,000 pounds of mail were allocated
per aircraft. Sorting procedures were stream¬lined to eliminate
the double-handling of mail. A Mail Move¬ment Team (MMT) was established
with the sole purpose of maximizing the use of space on aircraft and
ground vehicles. Team members were tireless and our success in postal
operations was a direct result of their actions. The MMT was responsible
for coordinating with the movement control battal¬ion and Air Force
and coordinating and synchronizing all mail deliveries to the FOBs.
An extensive customer service plan was also developed and implemented.
Commanders at remote sites were constantly kept in the loop on the status
of mail destined to go to their FOB. Commanders were imme¬diately
notified of delays and were told when the next delivery attempt would
With all the great planning the Battalion was still at the mercy of
the unpredictable weather. Since most mail was delivered by air, a few
days of bad weather could cause tremendous backlogs. Despite all the
challenges we faced, 13 million pounds of mail was delivered during
our tour. In short, the 50th totally re-wrote postal doctrine.
While postal operations was the 50th’s primary focus, the Battalion
provided several other critical services to include personnel strength
accounting, casualty reporting, personnel records management, promotions,
personnel evaluations, personnel information systems management, ID
cards, pass¬ports, and R5 (Reception, Replacement, Return-to-Duty,
R&R, and Redeployment) support. Although non-postal operations were
not as visible, they were just as important and our Soldiers ensured
all customers received first-class support.
On March 1, 2007, our operations in Afghanistan came full circle with
the Transfer of Authority to the 147th PSB from the Minnesota National
Guard. We coordinated with our replace¬ments for months prior to
their arrival and ensured they were well-positioned to succeed.
Training, support from the home front, two-way communi¬cation, and
teamwork were the key factors in our successful deployment and return.
All Soldiers returned safely without any serious injuries. I am incredibly
proud of the men and women that I served with during our tour in Afghanistan.
They are all great Americans.