KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — On any given day in a small non-descript office on Camp Losano here, Airmen of the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing peek their heads in and ask the question, “Is she here?”
The “she” they are referring to goes by many names: “K-10,” “Santa Clause,” and “Mail Girl,” to name a few. But Senior Airman Shannon Koutsovalas, 451st AEW mail clerk manager from the 563rd Rescue Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., will answer to all of them.
More than 50,000 lbs of mail are delivered to Kandahar Airfield daily, according to the KAF Mail Center, and Koutsovalas is the project lead for 451st AEW to ensure Airmen get their portion of those deliveries. Mail consists of online orders, care packages from family members and friends, philanthropic organizations and charities, written correspondence and even dog food.
Deployment taskings and locations have evolved since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001. Bare-base living conditions coupled with limited communications made communication through written correspondence essential to the morale and welfare of deployed Airmen.
However, over time many facilities grew into hardened billets with all the amenities, including plumbing and increased internet access. But still, talking via web-cam or instant messenger with those back home still lacks the personal touch. That’s where Koutsovalas comes in.
“I know it’s a cliché,” Koutsovalas said, “but working long days and sifting through pallets of mail and packages is totally worth it when you see someone begin to jump up and down because they received a card or package from home. I think they recognize that sure, anyone can email, post to Facebook or talk for a moment on their webcam, but it takes a conscious effort for people back home to stop what they’re doing, go to the store and pick up a card or some little munchies, then take the time to box it up, address it and go the post office to mail it. We take mail for granted nowadays. It’s one of the oldest forms of communication, but we have grown to neglect it and instead choose the quick and easy, ‘hello,’ over email.”
Koutsovalas manages the daily mail program for 21 units and more than 2,100 personnel. Fortunately, it is not a task she has to do alone. Every morning Koutsovalas rallies up her mail clerk augmentees for a ride over to the mail center. The 451st Expeditionary Mission Support Group, Operations Group and Maintenance Group each provides augmentees to assist the mail clerk on a weekly basis, providing five to seven personnel to help with the detail.
“They truly are a huge help,” Airmen Koutsovalas said in regards to the mail augmentees. “You never know what you’re going to get every morning heading over to the mail center. Sometimes you only have six pallets. But sometimes you have 10 or 12. One time I even had 22 pallets to go through. There’s no way I’d be able to keep up with the program if it weren’t for the augmentees helping out. They are as responsible for the success of the mail program as anyone.”
During her three months deployed here the mail program manager has assisted with the unloading and delivery of more than 200 pallets of mail, weighing more than 246 tons. She has also improved the process in which units can collect their mail by reorganizing and reallocating pick-up bins in the three storage conexes for the 21 units she services, said Master Sgt. Veronica Haskin, 451st AEW command section superintendent.
“I remember how it felt when I first received my care package which was personally delivered from Shannon,” said Haskin. “It’s evident how much pride and joy she takes in helping improve morale to other personnel living and residing on Camp Losano every day. It really takes a passionate person to do this job, day-in-and day-out.”
The perks of seeing the reactions personnel assigned to the base dis-play are one thing, but it’s not without its challenges.
“Sometimes you get crazy orders in, and you have to try and get them pushed out as fast as possible,” Airman Koutsovalas said. “Just recently I received a package for an Airman that was nothing but dog food. Turned out it was a shipping error and the Airman didn’t order it, however don’t tell the ants in the conex that…they loved it.”