Yokota's PACAF AIRPS keeps people connected during holidays

Yokota's PACAF AIRPS keeps people connected during holidays

by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal
374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- It's no secret the holidays can bring increased traffic to postal operations, especially overseas. Family members are sending packages to loved ones to and from the U.S., active-duty members are ordering presents, taking advantage of holiday deals and many are sending out their holiday greetings.

The Pacific Air Forces Air Postal Squadron manages operations for the PACAF AIRPS transportation flight at Yokota and three detachments at 11 locations including Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Antarctica, to serve more than 355,000 patrons throughout the region.

“If mail is transported in an aircraft, we touch it somehow,” said Lt. Col. Melody Jones, PACAF AIRPS commander. “We’re the reason it gets to the post office. The primary difference between the post office and us is they interact with the customer whereas we interact with the mail.”

The PACAF AIRPS can receive two to three times the amount of mail during the holiday season, but despite increased operations tempo, the mission doesn’t slow down.

“I am proud of the hard work my team dedicates for the success of the mission,” said Master Sgt. Max Gomez, PACAF AIRPS Transportation Flight superintendent. “We have a team, Mail Control Activity, who drives to Narita Airport daily to dispatch and accept mail from Air Carriers. The Aerial Mail Terminal team is the anchor of the operations, always processing the mail so it can be delivered to its final destination whether that is CONUS or OCONUS.”

The flight team drive 164 miles a day, totaling 59.8K miles annually, to these airports and back to Yokota. During the holidays the PACAF AIRPS transportation flight can drive to these locations to load multiple trucks with more than a thousand packages each.

The increased demand isn’t a cause for concern for at least one host nation employee who has executed the squadron’s mission for 30 years.

“All employees, including Master Labor Contract (MLC) employees and military personnel, know this time of year is very busy,” said Shigeru Ishii, PACAF AIRPS mail sorting clerk. “We’re ready for it and prepare more trucks and times of deliveries. It doesn’t matter how busy this office is, we always work together to deal with any type of work increase.”

The PACAF AIRPS works side-by-side with Japan Customs, who are a crucial part in supporting the squadron’s mail transportation, distribution, and management processes.

“Japanese MLC employees play a vital role here,” said Ishii. “This office receives all kinds of shipments from Narita and Haneda. In order to distribute those packages and shipments from here to Misawa Air Base, for example, Japanese customs has to come here to inspect each shipment at this office. Japanese employees working here need to communicate with them.”

The team ensures packages entering and leaving the country are safeguarded and properly labeled during processing. They tackle challenges together to ensure gifts and packages deliver on time.

“We’re the first line of military to touch the mail once it gets to Japan at Yokota Air Base,” said Airman 1st Class Precious Morales, PACAF AIRPS mail sorting clerk. “We ensure it’s protected, safe, and secure. If we get packages that are damaged because of flight or another reason, we take the time to see what is damaged, repair the packaging and deliver it to the post office.”

Morales thinks about her personal experience when working to get packages to service members and families and said she appreciates what she and her team do day-to-day.

“This is my first time being away from family,” said Morales. “It’s harder to be with them, especially during the holiday season. I was able to send a package to them with all the Japan goodies and my family was able to appreciate what they got from me on time. It gives me a sense of security and happiness that I’m doing my job and each side is able to give or receive their mail. That’s how we connect.”

The squadron works 24/7 to ensure mail is delivered to friends and family during the season and some Airmen have gained a bond with their team throughout the effort.

“We treat each other like we’re brothers and sisters … more like a family,” said Morales. “The teamwork is there. If someone needs help, we’re there to help them.”

The unity between host nation employees and U.S. service members is a primary reason for their professional development and success in executing the mission.

“It’s a great dynamic,” said Gomez. “We have a great partnership and bond with Japan and we hope to continue to enhance that relationship. A lot of us come here without postal experience and they are the first ones to start teaching us through on-the-job training. I got here three years ago and I picked the brain of every MLC here. They give young Airmen someone to look up to, acquire techniques from and [emulate] their motivation. They are dedicated to getting the mission done.”

Yokota Air Base’s geographical location makes it an ideal place for the PACAF AIRPS due to the installation’s close proximity to the squadron’s detachments, and ability to collaborate with two international airports. However, Jones said the mission wouldn’t be successful without the help of mission partners.

“It’s not just teamwork within the squadron, it’s also teamwork with our mission partners like the logistics readiness squadron, force support squadron and our sister services,” said Jones. “We work with the Navy, the Marines in South Korea, and we work with the Army. Not a single Airman or MLC out there would say ‘I take care of this myself.’ It’s all hands on deck.”

When a service member, friend or loved one sends or receives a gift, package or letter in or from the region, more than likely a member of the PACAF AIRPS team had a hand in making sure that message found its way to them.

Photo Caption:
Airman 1st Class Precious Morales, Pacific Air Forces Air Postal Squadron mail processing clerk, moves packages down a conveyer belt for processing Dec. 3, 2021, at Yokota Air Base, Japan. The PACAF AIRPS can receive two to three times the amount of mail during the holiday season, and work seven days a week to ensure an increased flow of mail can be sorted and delivered across the region. Yokota Air Base’s geographical location makes it an ideal place for the PACAF AIRPS due to the installation’s close proximity to the squadron’s detachments, and ability to collaborate with two international airports.

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