Anthrax Threat Suspends Dear Abby, "Any Service Member" Mail Programs

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service /bylines

news-article ALEXANDRIA, Va., Oct. 30, 2001 -- Military postal officials have reluctantly ended the "Operation Dear Abby" and "Any Service Member" postal programs due to the anthrax threat.

Alan F. Estevez, acting assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for transportation policy, suspended the two programs in a signed Oct. 30 memorandum to the Military Postal Service Agency. The memo formalizes an interim agency suspension issued Oct. 16. Effective immediately, mail will no longer be accepted for these anonymous-sender programs.

The Dear Abby program, founded by the newspaper advice columnist, has delivered mail to U.S. service members overseas during the holiday season for 17 years. "Any Service Member" mail grew out of Desert Shield and Desert Storm, but really cranked up during the U.S. assistance to Bosnia in 1995, officials said.

Both programs let U.S. service members overseas know that fellow Americans support them and appreciate their sacrifices.

A written notice from the Military Postal Service Agency said the most critical issue surrounding these mail programs is personnel safety. "Both of these programs create an avenue to introduce mail into the system from unknown sources," the notice said. "The recent mail-related attacks have demonstrated the vulnerability of the postal system."

Mail handling has become more sensitive and time consuming, said officials, and the increased volume of mail that would result from the Dear Abby and Any Service Member programs could impact the quality of military postal service and force protection.

U.S. Postal Service officials said a ton of letter mail equals about 71,000 typical first-class letters.