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Citing budget cuts, Marine Corps ends popular Moto Mail program

Sep. 16, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The secure electronic service Marine Corps families use to get mail to troops in Afghanistan and aboard Marine expeditionary units within 48 hours will cease operations at the end of September due to Defense Department budget cuts, Marine Corps officials said this month.

Moto Mail is a contracted service using a secure system, laser printer, and special paper to print out and deliver letters and pictures, telegram-style, to deployed Marines via a Marine Corps postal affairs office. Staff with Superletter.com, the company providing the service, said they learned in late August that the Marine Corps had decided not to continue the popular service.

Since it began in late 2004 at the behest of Army Gen. Tommy Franks, Moto Mail has delivered nearly 4 million letters to forward-deployed Marines, said Murdoch Morrison, Moto Mail’s liaison to the Marine Corps. Mail volume peaked in 2005, when Moto Mail delivered more than 744,000 letters, according to statistics provided by Morrison — more than four letters for each Marine in the Corps.

Though usage has declined in recent years due to slower deployment tempo and the increased availability of email and other communications methods, Moto Mail still delivered 105,000 letters last year, Morrison said. Moto Mail is particularly popular on MEUs, where communication can be spotty and letters take a long a long time to arrive. At one point during its current deployment, the 26th MEU was printing letters at the rate of 400 per night, he said.

Moto Mail costs the Marine Corps just under $400,000 a year, which covers the cost of up to 30,000 letters per month, Morrison said. Since the company announced the program would end, it has been inundated with letters from family members — nearly three dozen on Sept. 11 alone — asking staff to keep the program going. “In the scheme of things, $400,000 seems like a very small number,” he said.

Email and snail mail remain available to deployed troops, but Morrison said Moto Mail remains unique in that it is faster than letters and more secure than Web communication; messages are encrypted until just before they’re printed and sealed. “I would lose sleep at night if I were the commander of (forward-deployed) Marines and they had email, and Skype and Facebook access,” he said. Officials with the Marine and Family Programs Division said no one was immediately available to discuss alternatives to the program.

E-Bluey, a two-way version of Moto Mail used by the British armed forces, is still going strong, with nearly 12 million letters delivered since 2001. Morrison said the company is still looking for cost-saving measures or sponsorships that might keep Moto Mail available to Marines.

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