A Piece of Home, One Package at a Time: Madrid Aerial Mail Terminal

By Courtney Pollock PUBLIC AFFAIRS, NAVAL STATION ROTA

Luis Pulgaron scans mail received in Madrid from a flight out of Newark, New Jersey. –photo by Bruce Wheeler
A package in the mail from a loved one is enough to brighten anyone’s day, but did you ever wonder how that package made its way to sunny southern Spain? A small group of NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) Sigonella personnel – one civilian, four Sailors, and three contracted local national employees– at Madrid Barajas International Airport, are instrumental in managing a postal transportation network maintaining the flow of mail in and out of the region.

“Madrid Aerial Mail Terminal (AMT) is open seven days a week, 365 days a year, and we are the sole single service mail manager for Department of Defense (DoD), Department of State (DoS), and NATO members in the Kingdom of Spain, Portugal, and for U.S. Navy vessels transiting the area of responsibility (AoR),” explained William Smith, postal officer of Madrid AMT.

This is no small task with over 251,000 pieces, and 2.5 million pounds of mail being processed in fiscal year 2019 by Madrid AMT. This large volume of mail was dispatched to and received from Naval Station Rota, Moron Air Base, National Support Elements (U.S. service members assigned to NATO) throughout the Iberian Peninsula, U.S. Embassies, Consulates and transiting ships and battle groups. Their average customer base is 8,000 personnel, but this number can swell to over 40,000 with transiting ships in the area.

Being located in a major European air transit hub, Smith and his team are able to facilitate mail service to personnel within this AoR by communicating and working with airport personnel to conduct “a timely, efficient, safe, and accurate mail system.” The mail arrives and departs Madrid Barajas International Airport through multiple commercial air carriers as AMT staff observe various arriving flights to ensure secure and efficient offloading of mail by ground handlers.

“Upon offloading, AMT staff follow ground handlers transporting mail back to carrier warehouses for screening,” said Smith. “After screening is complete, all mail is delivered to the AMT for processing.” This is when the hard work begins for AMT staff. They scan all incoming mail and packages as arrived into the United States Postal Service (USPS) system, then sort and manifest mail based on destination. The mail is then loaded onto outbound trucks or aircraft for its final delivery destination throughout the AoR. While their work is demanding and never-ending, the impact and the responsibility is clear to the employees at Madrid AMT.

“I feel that my mission here at Madrid AMT is important because we are handling personal mail packages that service members and their families are counting on being delivered,” said Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Mary Matthews.

Knowing that they are handling personal mail that includes packages from loved ones stateside is gratifying. Matthews says she feels “honored to be a part of this mission.” A sentiment also felt by coworker Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Phillip Freeman.

“I feel honored and privileged to be a part of something bigger than me,” Freeman explained.

The process is similar for outgoing mail. After mail from various locations around the Iberian Peninsula and AoR arrives at Madrid AMT, all outgoing mail is scanned, received, and x-rayed to detect dangerous items that would be an aircraft hazard, if no hazardous items are found mail is then manifested and dispatched daily to commercial air carriers for transport to the United States and destinations around the world.

This is a brief glimpse into the AMT’s internal operations. Their office also relies on and liaisons with several government and airport personnel in order to accomplish their job.

“We have a great rapport with the Spanish Airport officials, Spanish Customs, and Guardia Civil who maintain a security presence at the airport,” said Smith. “We could not do our job without their cooperation and professionalism.”

These agencies, in addition to Madrid AMT personnel, work to ensure the safety of the aircraft and passengers aboard the flights as well as the mail reaching its destination. This includes removing prohibited items found during security screening.

If prohibited items – such as alcohol, aerosol cans, or anything that can pose a threat – are found in the mail, Madrid AMT personnel are contacted and they take possession of the package. The staff will remove and destroy the item and a letter is sent to the customer and originating post office to notify them of the violation.

While thas is an unpleasant aspect of his job, Smith overall enjoys the unique mission of this command and is well-positioned for his role. He served as the last Air Force Postal Detachment Chief/Officer in Madrid before operations were turned over to the U.S. Navy in 2013.

“A few things have changed [since 2013] with the way mail is processed,” said Smith. “USPS has modernized quite a bit with different innovations being introduced into the mail transportation process providing more visibility and tracking for the customer which increases overall security and accountability.”

While Smith agrees that technology has been great for staying connected with loved ones stateside or around the world, he feels that it will never replace the tangible piece of mail.

Logistics Specialists 2nd Class Phillip Freeman and Mike Jerome Rabanal load mail into a van for Madrid NATO unit personnel. –photo by Bruce Wheeler

“In this day and age of Facebook and iPhones, nothing can ever replace the feeling of receiving a letter or care package in the mail from a loved one,” said Smith. “In short, we keep our customers connected to home.”

Located at Madrid’s Barajas International Airport, the AMT is functionally aligned under NAVSUP FLC Sigonella’s operational site at Naval Station (NAVSTA) Rota, Spain. The AMT works closely with air carriers, Spanish customs agents, the Spanish Postal Service, and logisticians at the airport to receive, dispatch, and ship all letter mail and parcels for DoD, DoS, and NATO customers throughout the Iberian Peninsula and Northern Europe.

Site Rota is one of NAVSUP FLC Sigonella’s five logistics sites in the Navy Region Europe, Africa, Central AoR. Strategically positioned at NAVSTA Rota, the Site provides operational logistics support to homeported Forward Deployed Naval Forces and transient United States Sixth Fleet units. Site Rota provides supply chain management, bulk and aviation fueling capability, materiel handling equipment, contracting, hazardous material management, household goods and vehicle processing and postal operations to fleet, installation and other service components throughout the AoR