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Officials emphasize caution with APO addresses

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Jan. 30, 2003) -- World events have Air Force postal officials re-emphasizing the need for security when using the military mail system.

In particular, postal officials are concerned that airmen might not use an appropriate amount of discretion when distributing their overseas mailing addresses.

Senior Master Sgt. Richard Aldridge, Civil Engineer Squadron Readiness Superintendent, opens a package to thoroughly check for anthrax at an undisclosed base postal facility. Security measures such as this one are the direct result of changes in the global political climate and increased hostilities towards U.S. military members. As a result, alert statuses at installations around the globe have increased and Air Force postal officials are reemphasizing the need for heightened security when using the military mail system. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lynnita M. Cotton.

While the Air Force is emphasizing that people keep a short leash on their APO addresses, officials recognize that the American public wants to show support for its troops. Fortunately, said Eichholz, there are avenues where people can do just that without jeopardizing their security.

Those programs, according to DOD officials, were eliminated because they created an avenue to introduce biological, chemical or explosive materials into the military mail system, putting people in danger. At the same time, the programs left the sources of such material virtually untraceable.

Air Force officials have identified other potential vulnerabilities in the system. Those include Web sites that ask for overseas mailing addresses, publicly available sign-up sheets for phone cards or other goods to be sent overseas, said Bob Eichholz, the director of Air Force postal policy. It also includes local community efforts to gather up homemade goods and materials that can be sent from anonymous individuals to an APO address provided by a well-meaning servicemember.

"These are all well-intended programs to support the military," Eichholz said. "In the past those programs worked well, but today the same programs open us up to attacks from unknown sources. We have to take as many safeguards as we can to protect our mail system."

Postal officials recommend that people be as prudent with their APO addresses as possible -- limiting where they post their address and to whom they hand it out.

Senior Master Sgt. Richard Aldridge, Civil Engineer Squadron Readiness Superintendent, cuts a open a recently received package to look for wires that may automatically release anthrax upon opening. Aldridge was part of Nuclear Biological and Chemical team that checked incoming mail at an undisclosed base postal facility. Security measures such as this one are the direct result of changes in the global political climate and increased hostilities towards U.S. military members. As a result, alert statuses at installations around the globe have increased and Air Force postal officials are reemphasizing the need for heightened security when using the military mail system. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lynnita M. Cotton.

"We recommend ... that members not just give out and advertise their APO addresses," Eichholz said. "Keep it for your business purposes and for your correspondence, but don't advertise it on a Web site."

He said there are some Web sites asking for people's addresses. On other Web sites, people leave their address to get a pen pal.

"We recommend people don't do that," Eichholz said. "You don't know where that mail is coming from or who has access to that address. You need to safeguard your APO address a little bit."

To reduce the vulnerability of using the mail system as a means to attack military people abroad, the Department of Defense officially suspended all "any servicemember"-type mail programs in late 2000. Those programs allowed the general public to address letters and care packages to "any servicemember," and those items would in turn be delivered to military people serving overseas.

"First, they've got the electronic 'any servicemember' programs," Eichholz said. "Also, you can support the United Services Organization and the Red Cross. Both organizations go overseas to help and support the troops. You can also help by supporting the various aid societies."