By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Scott Wichmann
The van arrives almost every morning like clockwork. As it backs into place, a large black metal barrier slides open. Another delivery is about to be processed.
Under fluorescent lights, a small crew of service members and civilians quickly line up at the open van doors to form a human chain, maintaining social distancing and wearing masks, unloading and handing off large purple bags filled with letters, boxes of assorted sizes containing products ordered online, and care packages from loved ones far away.
While some base departments have seen their operations slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff of the NSA Naples post office, attached to Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center (NAVSUP FLC) Sigonella, has seen its workload double, highlighting its importance as one of the most essential and relentlessly hard working departments on the installation.
“Because of the pandemic, a lot of mail has been backed up coming through different routes,” said support site postal clerk Logistics Specialist Seaman Oralia Ortiz. “One of our big challenges has been to catch up and make sure all that mail gets to where it’s going.”
Marine Sgt. Montonio Kenan, NSA Naples postal supervisor, said the biggest challenge facing his ten-person team, made up of six Sailors, two Marines and two Italian nationals, has been distributing mail fast enough to make room for more incoming deliveries.
“There was a point about two weeks ago where we were slammed,” said Kenan. “We didn’t have any space on any shelves and we still had a lot of mail to process in.”
Kenan said the postal unit had to work even harder when social distancing measures forced them to operate under a staggered work schedule, breaking an already beleaguered crew into two separate shifts.
“We knew it was something we had to do,” said Kenan, of the change, “so we made sure we had people who could cover all responsibilities on both shifts and made sure there was a balance with the schedule. When things got more demanding we overlapped the shifts to make everything run smoothly.”
According to Ortiz, the contribution the postal team receives from their Italian host nation employees has been invaluable, from providing critical technical support to facilitating communication and even lifting daily morale.
“Our local nationals do everything we do,” she said, “from finance to customer service and more. They bring a lot of support by not only communicating with the locals face to face, but they also do a lot for us (in the office) by just being happy all the time.”
NSA Naples postal clerk Francesco Ciccarelli, who joined the team last November after spending several years as a hospitality employee at Navy Gateway Inns and Suites, said the postal team has been working diligently to distribute the incoming mail as fast as it arrives.
“Unfortunately because of the coronavirus, the whole transportation system has been affected,” said the 34 year-old Naples native. “It’s been quite intense. We’ve been through really really hard times, but I’m hopeful we are seeing the light now.”
Ciccarelli said his American counterparts have made him feel like a valued member of the team since his first day on the job.
“If you are supported, your job is just easier,” said Ciccarelli. “We are a great team, and since day one I’ve realized I am supported by everyone. At the same time I try to do my best to help them.”
Kenan said Ciccarelli helps in many ways, most notably through his willingness to proactively take ownership of whatever issues arise on a given day.
“He’s one of the hardest workers here,” said Kenan, of his Italian co-worker. “He comes up and takes things off my hands and says “I’ve got it, Sergeant.” He’s a wonderful addition to the team.”
Ciccarelli said the feeling of appreciation goes both ways.
“They’re the best, they really are,” said Ciccarelli, of his Navy and Marine Corps co-workers. “We support each other personally and professionally, and I know I always have someone to count on.”
“It’s fundamental,” said Ciccarelli, “if you don’t have a great team, you cannot do great things.”
Ortiz said her team also appreciates the support they have received from many postal-certified service members in other units who often volunteer their time to help ease the workload on the postal staff.
“A lot of people have been volunteering and we are very thankful for that,” said Ortiz. “The postal qualified Sailors that are coming by to help are making a big difference, even if it’s just dropping letters in mailboxes for a few hours. Every bit helps.”
Kenan said the best way support site personnel and their families can assist his team’s efforts is to promptly show up to claim their mail as soon as it arrives.
“We can’t process mail if we don’t have space,” said Kenan. “So please, come pick up your mail.”
Ortiz also offered a suggestion for those customers awaiting packages or having issues with outgoing or incoming mail delays.
“Just be patient,” said Ortiz. “We’re always trying to work to make things better. We know that it can be very stressful waiting for mail, but little by little we’re trying to make things go faster and smoother.”
Ciccarelli reinforced the importance of adhering to social distancing guidelines, whether in the post office or anywhere else, and provided a uniquely Italian perspective.
“I think in every environment it’s important to follow the procedures and it’s very, very hard for Italians because we don’t have boundaries,” said Ciccarelli, with a laugh. “We just hug each other and kiss each other all the time. So if we can make it (through this), then you should have no problem.”
Kenan offered a word of encouragement, leadership and solidarity for his team and for his postal customers.
“Everybody just stay safe,” he said. “Adhere to the decrees and the policies, and eventually we’ll all be back out in the world. In the meantime, remember, we’re all in this together.”
This story is part of the larger “Hidden Heroes” series that serves to highlight the critical contributions of essential workers at NSA Naples during the COVID-19 pandemic response.