Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Support the Troops: Operation Paperback

Writers love to read. Moreover, we have to read. We read to see what genres and tropes are selling, we read to evaluate our peers (i.e., our competition), we read to absorb how others write with emotion, brevity, impact, style. We subconsciously dissect structure, plot, point of view and other tools. Only rarely can we afford to read solely for pleasure.

The result of all this reading? Books and more books, in every nook and cranny of our homes. Sure, we avail ourselves of the local lending library and are more and more often buying digital editions, but we also buy tons of print books. What to do with all those books once we’ve read and digested them?

A while ago my friend Tara Nina, whose son serves in the U.S. Armed Forces, steered me to Operation Paperback and I’m always happy to mention it to other folks.

As a result of some boxes returned to me this week as undeliverable (more on that later), I’ve learned new things about shipping to the troops. Information below came either from the U.S. Postal Service or Wikipedia.

Military Post Offices (MPOs) operated or supported by the Army or Air Force use the city abbreviation APO (Army Post Office or Air Force Post Office), while Navy and Marine Corps use the city abbreviation FPO (Fleet Post Office).

Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) was added as a valid overseas address in 2009. As of March 2009 there were sixteen U.S. embassy locations known as DPOs. The other approximately ninety overseas U.S. embassy post offices fall under the management oversight of the Services and so are known as either APOs or FPOs. However, many will be switching to the DPO address.

Three "state" codes have been assigned depending on the geographic location of the military mail recipient:

* AE (ZIPs 09xxx) for Armed Forces Europe which includes Canada, Middle East, and Africa
* AP (ZIPs 962xx - 966xx) for Armed Forces Pacific
* AA (ZIPs 340xx) for Armed Forces (Central and South) Americas

All mail must be addressed to someone specific; addressing mail to “Any Service Member” is no longer permitted.

Military mail between the U.S. and overseas locations is subject to customs inspection in the country of destination, and customs declarations must be attached to packages and larger mail pieces.

For APO/FPO/DPO shipments you pay domestic prices, even though items are shipped internationally. If you pack only books, you can send them at lower cost via “Media Mail” rather than “Priority Mail”.
Ready for Operation paperback
A 12”x10”x8” Ready Post box will hold 25 to 28 books; 12”x12”x6” Priority Mail boxes fit about 20-24.

Now for my tale of woe.

Having received a name and address from Operation Paperback, last week I shipped four boxes of paperback books to a DPO AE address, carefully following all directions and double-checking my printing. Two boxes were returned within 3 days marked “undeliverable.” A couple of days later I received an email from my addressee thanking me for the receipt of ONE box. Two days after that, the fourth box was returned to me, lighter by half and rewrapped with lots of see-through tape.

Turns out that the box was damaged and hastily repacked with
(a) 11 out of the 25 books;
(b) 2 small ceramic frogs that had apparently been involved in the collision and scooped up inadvertently;
(c) a wad of brown kraft paper to fill the spaces formerly occupied by books;
(d)  a form letter of apology from the Atlanta Mail Recovery Center. I will contact them to see if there’s a snowball’s chance in Hades that the 14 missing books will be recovered.

I don’t mean to bash the Postal Service; they do a fantastic job in the face of budget deficits and competition not only from private carriers but instant electronic communication. And my local carrier, Eileen, is wonderful. But it seems to me that maybe not everyone in the U.S.P.S. knows about DPO and they didn’t know how to route it.

My local postmaster suggested putting my return address inside the box as well as on the label. Unless he meant “affix it to each item inside”, I’m not sure that would have helped in this instance.

I will continue sending books as I accumulate them. I also take home any unopened shampoo and soap packets from hotel stays and, along with travel-size grooming items I add to my grocery list every now and again, to ship them as well. Small toiletry items are as much appreciated by the troops as reading material is.

If you support our troops overseas, thank you. Please share your stories here.


  1. What a fantastic way to share my books. I have so many that I have read and would love to pass on. I will be doing this. Thanks for sharing, Cris!

  2. Nice of you to do this. I've sent stuff to a specific name and always had boxes arrive without a problem. Maybe some PO locations do better than others.

  3. Oh wow, here I thought nothing could be worse than Canada Post! Glad to hear you're persevering, this is a great idea.

  4. Krazymama, I'm glad you'll be passing some of your books on to the troops. Just make sure the covers are inoffensive to other cultures (no clinches, etc.)

    Marianne, it wasn't my local PO location, but somewhere in the great unknown. Hopefully it was a fluke.

    Lena, sorry to hear Canada has such problems, too.

    Thank you all for commenting. Have a happy holiday season.