MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI -- With the turn of a mailbox key, someone's day can be brightened by a care package from home, irked by bills, or excited by the exclamation that, "You may have won $1 million."
However, the thousands of letters and packages that arrive aboard the Station each day do not magically appear. On the other side of the mailbox are the Marines of the Station Post Office.
Patrons see the Marines behind the counter and the mail inside of their mailbox, but behind the scenes, the action never stops. Shifts of Marines are constantly busy, receiving, sorting and inspecting every piece of mail that comes into their care.
"It's the privates, lance corporals and corporals that do the majority of the work," said Staff Sgt. Roderick Haynes, postal operations chief. "They make the mission happen."
That mission is far more complicated than sticking letters in a box. The process begins the night before as trucks roll onto the Station loaded with mail. The four Marines on night crew take it from there and begin the long unloading, sorting, filing and inspecting process.
There are more than 7,000 pieces of mail that arrive on the Station every day for the aproximately 5,000 customers served. The day crew finishes the mission by getting all of that mail to the recipients as fast as possible, noted Lance Cpl. A.J. Robles, postal clerk.
Postal patrons may have noticed that the mail, once available first thing in the morning, is now in their boxes a few hours later. This is due to the careful inspections of each piece of mail because of precautions taken dealing with anthrax.
Many of the postal workers backstage who once felt as though the limelight would never fall on them, are finding a blinding spotlight has entered their world.
"People are looking at us like we are the first line of defense keeping the base safe from anthrax," said Cpl. Claude Baker, postal deck noncommissioned officer. "Even though it's time consuming, we like to look at it like we are helping the community."
Whether everyone knows it or not, postal Marines have been helping the community for a very long time in one significant area - morale.
"Postal is important in the sense that next to chow and money, mail is what Marines are all about," said Baker. "It's a huge morale booster. You would be surprised the difference one letter from home will make on a Marine's performance at work and his overall attitude."
Although the Marines put in long hours, there is little reason or time to complain, Robles noted, and they see the benefits of their work every day.
"When you hand someone their mail you can actually see the expression in their face change," Baker said. "The biggest joy we as postal workers get out of our job are the expressions we receive from other people when they receive a piece of mail."
Mail is something that never stops, and the Marines do all they can to get the mail to its final destination, even on deployments.
"Once we go out to support one of the deployed squadrons, we are a fully functioning post office," said Baker, who recently returned from deployment in Australia. "In every clime and place, we deliver, so wherever the Marine Corps is going, postal is going."
Whether in Iwakuni or Rockhampton, Australia, the Marines of postal have been there to serve. It is a thankless job, Baker noted, but the importance is clear to the Marines.
"We're working hard and we are glad it's appreciated," Robles said. "Knowing that you are making a difference makes the long days worth it."