By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 23, 2009) -- The Army's HooahMail program makes it possible for friends and family members to put a paper letter and photograph into the hands of their loved ones in Afghanistan, in some cases, on the same day it's sent.
The one-year pilot program is scheduled to begin Dec. 1 and makes use of the Internet combined with physical mail delivery to create a hybrid mail system that can get letters into the hands of Soldiers in remote locations much faster than regular mail delivery alone.
"This gives Soldiers actual printed correspondence that is sent from their family members that they can take out on a mission with them and read and reread again," said Bill Hilsher, Army postal program manager.
Family members that want to send a letter and a photograph to a Soldier in Afghanistan would log into the program's Web site at www.hooahmail.us. There, they type in their message and attach a digital photo. They also add delivery information for their Soldier, as though they were addressing a paper envelope.
Their electronic letter is sent via the Internet to one of 10 locations in Afghanistan where special equipment will automatically print it, fold it, stuff it into an envelope, address it, and seal it. The sealed envelopes are then placed into the regular intra-theater APO mail delivery system.
Hilsher said depending on where Soldiers are in Afghanistan, the paper letter from home could be in their hands the same day as mother sent it, or it could take as many as four days. A paper letter sent directly from the states takes much longer, Hilsher said.
"Compared to traditional mail ... it reduces it from an average of 14 days down to same-day or next-day, ready for delivery," he said.
The HooahMail program is free for family members and friends, and is available for Soldiers in Afghanistan only.
Hilsher said the Army postal service expects the program to benefit the service during the holiday season, when it typically sees increases in mail traffic.
"During the holiday season, that's your busiest time and this is going to augment that system," he said. "It'll give friends and families a way to send a message to their loved ones in a timely manner for the holiday season."
Hilsher also said he thinks the improved delivery time will have a positive effect on Soldier morale.
Service for the Army's HooahMail pilot program is provided by "SuperLetter," which provides similar services to the British military for its "e-Bluey" program and the U.S. Marine Corps for its "Motomail" program.