Santa's Mailbag Program yearly tradition for 354th OSS
By Staff Sgt. Eric Sheler, 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 04, 2007
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Dear Santa and Mrs. Claus,
My name is Julie Smith, I am 7 years old and I have been a very good girl this year and I want the Barbie Shopping Time Cash Register for Christmas and a puppy. I am leaving you milk and cookies for when you visit me.
These are the types of letters the men and women of the 354th Operations Support Squadron weather flight have received over the last 53 years and continue to receive every holiday season for the Santa's Mailbag program here at Eielson Air Force Base.
"We have been receiving and answering letters for more than 50 years, it is a tradition we enjoy being a part of," said Santa Mailbag coordinator Staff Sgt. Matthew Bohlman, 354th OSS weather flight.
The program was started by the 58th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron in 1954 when a group of men from the 58th squadron decided to help answer letters that arrived at the post office addressed to Santa Claus.
Once a week the weather technicians get together to read and write responses to the children using different Christmas-themed letter templates that were designed by the weather flight's members.
The members write a short handwritten note on each template and send the letter back to the child. The amount of letters the weather flight receives and responds to averages 3,000 to 5,000 letters each holiday season.
Sergeant Bohlman speculates this increase is in response to some national press coverage aired by a major news network on the Santa's Mailbag program.
"We believe the increase of letters is due to a story CNN ran on the program a couple of years ago," said the weather technician.
Another reason for the increase in letters received is not just from children of military families [all over the world] but from non-military as well.
"The CNN story gave this program more exposure than word-of-mouth advertising in the past," said Sergeant Bohlman.
The majority of letters received are children asking Santa Claus for different gifts for Christmas, ranging from the latest electronic gadgets to the more traditional toys such as dolls and bicycles.
There are other types of letters children write that don't request gifts, but other things such as the return of a lost one from a deployment, recovery from illness, or kids wanting their parents to get back together.
Sergeant Bolhman said those letters are few and far between, but are understandably the hardest letters to read.
Letters come in year-round not only from children, but also fan mail and praise.
"The wonderment and magic of childhood is such a brief time, many of my daughter's classmates have already begun to disbelieve," said Reta Burnette, mother of a 7-year old from Lexington, S.C. "Thank ou for helping me to keep her believing for just a little while longer."
"I try every year to have letters sent to our grandchildren and they look forward to it each and every time," said Rachael Provost, a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant.
Santa's Mailbag is privately funded with donations for postage and supplies making it free for everyone involved.
Children wanting to receive a letter from Santa Claus should write to Santa's Mailbag: 354th OSS/OSW, 2827 Flightline Ave, Eielson AFB, Alaska 99702, with a self addressed envelope.