IT’S a busy job dealing with up to 1,000 parcels and letters a week sent to British troops in Afghanistan – and a South Yorkshire man is in charge, writes Richard Marsden.
Sergeant Major Steve Burton is one of two bosses overseeing a team of 12 people dealing with incoming and outgoing mail at Camp Bastion Post Office.
Steve, a Warrant Officer II in the Royal Logistics Corps, has been in the Army for 22 years handling incoming British Forces Post Office (BFPO) mail in the first Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.
BFPO deals with letters and parcels sent to and from forces personnel around the world.
People in the UK can send post weighing up to two kilogrammes free of charge from any Post Office branch – although troops pay for return mail.
As well as mail between armed forces members and their families, the BFPO service also handles thousands of welfare packages particularly at times such as Christmas.
Steve, aged 46, from Intake, Doncaster, said: “Outgoing BFPO mail is sent out to Afghanistan roughly three or four times a week.
“At Camp Bastion, we handle all post for troops in Helmand. We can get items to soldiers in even the most remote bases in about seven days.”
As well as parcels and letters, Camp Bastion post office also prints off ‘e-blueys’ – electronic versions of traditional paper forms on which people can use to send short messages to troops.
Paper ‘blueys’ are still available from UK post offices though take longer to arrive.
E-blueys are filled in online and then printed off at Bastion before being sent like a normal letter to bases around the area.
Steve said: “Receiving post is a big morale boost for the troops and we are always very busy and can be at work for up to 13 hours a day.
“In the run-up to Christmas, we have approximately double the amount of items coming in.
“We have to have double shifts through the day and night to sort all the items for them to be forwarded to the correct base.”
Steve added: “We also act as the post office for troops out in Helmand to send packages and letters.
“There’s a counter at Camp Bastion and mail is also collected from outlying bases.
“Most items are letters but we sometimes get a few people trying to send things they shouldn’t such as duty-free cigarettes. We x-ray all outgoing mail, however, so they don’t get through.
“We have had some really unusual items which were stopped, the strangest of which was a whole turkey!”
Equally problematic can be well-wishers’ parcels, which are also x-rayed with all outgoing mail. Some contain banned items such as aerosols, which are removed.
Steve, who has family in South Yorkshire including brother Robert, in Scawthorpe, has been in Afghanistan since April and is not due to return until October.