New JBB east side post office dedicated to fallen postal employees

Story and photos by U.S. Army Sgt. Ryan Twist
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Seven Soldiers and two civilians were honored for their vital roles in postal operations during a dedication ceremony Dec. 17 for the new facility at the east side post office at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

Capt. David W. Laes, commander of the 847th Human Resources Company out of Fort Snelling, Okla., with the 90th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), said the Soldiers and civilians who voluntarily give their time in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom are proud American citizens.

Laes, a St. Paul, Minn., native, said the Soldiers’ and civilians’ brave and vital tasks create a stable and secure environment for communities worldwide.

At JBB, those tasks sometimes involve placing themselves in harm’s way by conducting missions that range from route clearance and reconnaissance to postal operations and logistical support convoys, he said.

"Since the beginning of operations in Iraq, there have been numerous casualties," said Laes. "We honor our fallen daily by continuing to serve and conduct our mission with integrity, bravery and honor. The postal personnel at Joint Base Balad are dedicating the newly built post office on east Balad to our fallen postal heroes that gave their lives in support of the United States of America."

Brig. Gen. Paul L. Wentz, commanding general of the 13th SC(E) out of Fort Hood, Texas, said he was honored to be at the dedication.

"I think it’s fitting and appropriate that the plaque down in (Camp) Liberty got moved up here and recognizes the nine fallen postal workers that paid the ultimate sacrifice," said Wentz. "It really represents the postal community and the folks that have been dedicated to providing mail services to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and civilians in this theater for a long time."

Laes said the nine deceased performed postal missions across Iraq to ensure Warfighters and civilians kept in touch with friends and family back home. He said postal operations are a vital link for communication and high morale for service members at contingency operating locations throughout the country.

"Every unit in theater plays an enormous role in making sure that our mission is accomplished," he said. "As postal workers, we take pride in supporting every (service member) and civilian. By dedicating this post office to our fallen postal comrades, their dedication to service will always be remembered."

On the plaque are: Spc. Darryl Dent, 21, 547th Transportation Company, Washington, Aug. 26, 2003; Vernon Gaston, 45, KBR Inc., Lampasas, Texas, Sept. 3, 2003; Spc. Jeremy Ridlen, 23, 1544th Transportation Company, Illinois Army National Guard, Moroa, Ill., May 23, 2004; Spc. Charles Lamb, 23, 1544th Trans. Co., Illinois Army National Guard, Casey, Ill., Sept. 5, 2004; Sgt. Shawna Morrison, 26, 1544th Trans. Co., Illinois Army National Guard, Paris, Ill., Sept. 5, 2004; Sgt. Jessica Cawvey, 21, 1544th Trans. Co., Illinois Army National Guard, Normal, Ill., Oct. 6, 2004; Pfc. Isaiah Hunt, 20, 497th Transportation Company, 1st Corps, Fort Lewis, Wash., Green Bay, Wis., Nov. 15, 2004; Sgt. Rocky Payne, 26, 497th Trans. Co., 1st Corps, Fort Lewis, Wash., Howell, Utah, Mar. 16, 2005; Fred Bryant, 39, KBR Inc., Jacksonville, Fla., Aug. 5, 2003.

"There are lots of lives, not one life is more important than the other one, those just happen to be the ones we picked," said Laes. "The (plaque) we have here is a reproduction of the one in (Camp Liberty, Baghdad) to honor the Soldiers."

Lt. Col. Tracy Williams, the human resources operations branch officer in charge with the 90th Sustainment Brigade out of Little Rock, Ark., 13th SC(E), said she is happy to see the new facility finished.

"I’m just so glad it’s over with because it has taken so long," said Williams, a Groveport, Ohio, native. "They spent (more than) $600,000 on this facility. You don’t want it to just sit."

The facility is larger than the previous building, allowing Soldiers to wait inside instead of out in the weather, said Williams. She said the extra space also accommodates more workers to increase efficiency.

Laes said they now have more table room for mandatory customs inspections. The new inspection tables have bins attached to them, which makes the area more customer friendly, he said.

Williams said she liked both facilities and considered the mission a success.

"I would love to come here in another year or so from now and see how it has progressed," she said. "The old facility had a very home feeling."

Wiley L. Fletcher, a KBR, Inc. employee and the project manager for the postal mission in Iraq, said the project went well under the circumstances.

"It’s been really extreme at times," said Fletcher, a Rosepine, La., native. "I had no idea that there were so many rules and regulations. We’ve done great with it. We’re proud of it and we’re motivated to work here. We know the personnel that come through here will be well served by this facility."

Fletcher said the old post office set a record, with more than 18 million pounds of mail coming in and out of Iraq in December of 2007.

"We move anywhere from eight (million) to 18 million pounds a month," he said.

Laes reminded everyone present at the ceremony what the building, and the plaque, symbolized.

"(Americans) have given their lives in sacrifice for something that they believe will bring a better, more promising future for our children, grandchildren, and generations to come," he said. "We come together in the most difficult of times to help one another, whether in financial crisis, natural disaster or armed conflict."

 

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Brig. Gen. Paul L. Wentz, commanding general of the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) out of Fort Hood, Texas, spoke to the audience during the Dec. 17 dedication ceremony of the new east side post office at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

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Capt. David W. Laes, commander of the 847th Human Resources Company out of Fort Snelling, Okla., with the 90th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), shakes hands with Wiley L. Fletcher, a KBR Inc. employee and the project manager for the postal mission in Iraq, at the dedication ceremony of the new east side post office Dec. 17 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Laes, a St. Paul, Minn., native, gave Fletcher, a Rosepine, La., native, the dedication plaque, which honors nine fallen postal workers.

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Capt. David W. Laes, commander of the 847th Human Resources Company out of Fort Snelling, Okla., with the 90th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), thanks guests for their attendance at the dedication ceremony of the new east side post office Dec. 17 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Laes, a St. Paul, Minn., native, said the dedication honored nine postal employees who lost their lives during postal operations in Iraq.