Ministry of Defence
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Plea to public from the front line: “Please support us at Christmas – but not by sending parcels!”. (For immediate release - images, video footage and audio clips available)

Plea to public from the front line: “Please support us at Christmas – but not by sending parcels!”. (For immediate release - images, video footage and audio clips available)

News Release issued by the COI News Distribution Service on 24 November 2009

Generous members of the public who show their support for Armed Forces personnel by sending welfare parcels to Afghanistan are being urged to stop and think – and consider alternative and better ways they can back the troops.

There are many different ways in which people in the UK can thank forces deployed overseas for their work and commitment, and support practical efforts to make their free time more enjoyable and comfortable.

But whilst the kindness and generosity of people who send boxes of treats out to operational theatre are greatly appreciated, the sheer volume of mail now being received - and the unintentional inclusion of inappropriate items - is causing serious difficulties for those charged with running the distribution service of supplies, including post, in theatre.

As the amount of post traditionally increases in the run-up to Christmas, officers and soldiers at Camp Bastion hope to highlight the unintended consequences of the public’s generosity – and point out other, much more effective ways that people can do their bit to bring a little cheer to the front line.

The message comes direct from military personnel at the sharp end, and their message is simple: troops on the ground in Helmand Province really appreciate support from back home, but the mountains of well-intentioned mail cause genuine difficulties which outweigh the benefits.

The volume of mail arriving at Camp Bastion for onward distribution is causing three key problems:

• Personal mail sent to deployed personnel by their loved ones can become significantly delayed, amidst all the other items from members of the public. Receipt of letters or gifts from a parent or spouse can be very important for morale in theatre and for the peace of mind of families back home. Whilst unsolicited parcels are without doubt popular with recipients, the delays they inevitably cause to the delivery of the much more anticipated personal mail are considerably less welcome.

• The onward delivery of goodwill parcels to forward operating bases necessitates additional re-supply 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, and therefore can go to waste.

The Ministry of Defence is very keen to ensure that members of the public who wish to support British service personnel are able to do so in a way which does not cause problems for the very people at whom the help is directed. For that reason a list of recommended Service charities, which accept public donations to assist deployed personnel and their families back at home, has been drawn up.

Some of these funds send welfare parcels to Afghanistan – but they do so, in consultation and partnership with the Armed Forces, in a co-ordinated way which does not put undue pressure on resources. This list of charities can be found on the internet at www.mod.uk/PublicSupportForOurServicePersonnel.

The newest of these charities, established this year, is the SSAFA Operational Welfare Fund, which delivers items for which troops on the ground have bid, to make their lives a little more comfortable. More details on this charity can be found at www.mod.uk/OperationalWelfareFund.

Another of the charities is uk4u-Thanks! which delivers a Christmas box to every soldier, sailor and airman deployed overseas – in Afghanistan and elsewhere – in time for 25th December. Its parcels are delivered via the supply chain, meaning there is no impact on the mail network. This charity benefits from corporate sponsorship but also appeals for private donations. A 2009 media launch for uk4u-Thanks! takes place on 1st December at RAF Northolt (Newsdesks please note an Operational Note will follow)

Captain Charlie Malcolm, Officer Commanding the Operation HERRICK Postal and Courier Squadron, based at Camp Bastion, explained:

“Unfortunately backlogs of mail do build up from time to time, particularly at this time of year. For personnel deployed overseas, personal mail from loved ones is very important. But the system can be completely overwhelmed by the public’s generous donations, which results in mail from family and friends being delayed

“The main cause of this is the huge and unmanageable number of welfare parcels, sent by well meaning members of the public, to recipients not personally known to the sender. In some cases the intended recipients have left Afghanistan long ago. This mail significantly delays the all important personal mail from soldier’s families.

“While we recognise and are grateful for these generous intentions, it would be better if members of the public could channel their goodwill into making a donation to one of the MoD’s recommended service charities. These charities send out packages – containing items the troops really want and have requested – in a co-ordinated way which does not hold up personal mail, or put unnecessary pressure on resources.”

Lieutenant Colonel George Waters, Staff Officer with responsibility for Operational Welfare at the Ministry of Defence, added:

“I have served in Afghanistan myself and I have been the recipient of several goodwill parcels from members of the public. There is no denying that the knowledge that complete strangers are thinking of you provides a boost to morale. But what the troops on the ground want above all else is to receive their personal mail and the sheer number of welfare parcels in the system causes serious delays to those all-important personal items.

“Everybody in the Armed Forces in enormously grateful for the generosity of people who want to support us. But the timely delivery of letters and parcels from loved ones must always take precedence over the delivery of packages from strangers.

“My message is unequivocal – if you wish to show your support for the troops, the far and away most effective way of doing so is to support an official registered service charity, such as SSAFA.”

Minister for the Armed Forces, Bill Rammell MP, said:

“I am delighted that so many members of the public are keen to show their support for our Armed Forces this Christmas. I know how much it means to our brave men and women serving overseas.

“However, it is very important to make sure that people express their support in the right way to make the biggest difference in helping our troops on the ground. Rather than sending their own letter or parcel, I am strongly urging people to consider making a donation of whatever they can afford to one of the excellent Service charities on our recommended list. This is what those in Afghanistan are saying they would like, as they want to make sure letters from their family and friends get to them without delay.

“Once again, let me say thank you to the British public for their incredible ongoing support for our Armed Forces.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

• Images and video footage, as well as audio of Capt Charlie Malcolm speaking from Camp Bastion, is available for download from www.defencenewsimagery.mod.uk

• Personnel and/or ministers may be available for interview and broadcasters are invited to bid in the usual way, via the Ministry of Defence Press Office, if this is of interest.

• For more information contact Ben Wilkinson in the Ministry of Defence Press Office on 0207 218 9006 or 07768 316281.

Contacts:

Ministry of Defence
NDS.MOD@coi.gsi.gov.uk