Sorting mail in the branch Fleet Post Office (FPO), Naval Base, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 1986.
Personnel serving in the U.S. military outside the United States are served by a special military mail service that provides:
Mail service to and from distant locations (in approximately 85 countries) via transfer points inside the U.S.
Mail service to servicemen and women at domestic rates, no matter where stationed
A flexible process to keep mail flowing to mobile military units
A level of security, obscuring the actual location of the military addressee
All mail going to a servicemember is directed to an APO/FPO address. This funnels the mail to a small number of gateway cities where a military mail processing facility is set up to direct it from there. There is no need for the sender to know the actual location of the military addressee, only the correct coding for the APO/FPO.
The U.S. Department of Defense Military Postal Service Agency (DoD MPSA) was created in 1980 to manage the mail services for all branches of the U.S. military. Prior to the creation of MPSA, each service managed its own flow of mail. MPSA operates a jointly-staffed headquarters, in the National Capital Region, and is the single point of contact between DoD and the U.S. Postal Service. The Secretary of the Army designated The Adjutant General of the Army to serve as the Executive Director of the Military Postal Service Agency to carry out the DoD mandate for MPSA.
The work of MPSA is further delegated to regional centers. The Joint Military Postal Activity - Atlantic has been headquartered at the New Jersey International Bulk Mail Center, Jersey City, NJ with Detachments located at Newark, NJ and:
International Service Center, John F. Kennedy Airport, Jamaica, NY
International Service Center, Miami, FL
International Service Center, Chicago, IL
The Joint Military Postal Activity - Pacific is parallel to JMPA-Atlantic with gateways in San Francisco, Honolulu, and Los Angeles. In World War II, the APO/FPO system was operated with just two gateways, in New York and San Francisco.
Military Mail APO / FPO Address System
To address military mail a system is used that is very similar to civilian mail, but adapted to the military requirements. Specifically, the normal final line of a civilian address would be something like:
Boston, MA 02215
There are three elements to this line: city, state, and zip code (5 or 9 digits). For a military address, these substitutions are made:
City: APO or FPO
State: AE or AP or AA
Zip code: No change, five or nine digits are used
The meaning of the codes:
APO: Army or Air Force Post Office
FPO: Fleet Post Office (Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard)
AE: Armed Forces Europe / Canada / Middle East / Africa, overseas areas served by New York gateway. Zip codes have a 09 prefix (09xxx)
AP: Armed Forces Pacific, overseas areas served by San Francisco gateway. Zip codes have a 96 prefix (96xxx)
AA: Armed Forces Americas excluding U.S. and Canada overseas areas served by Miami gateway. Zip codes have a 34 prefix (34xxx)
The prefixes for the zip code portion of the code were purposely chosen to be the same as the gateway city, to conform to existing USPS processes.
In situations where the country must be specified, e.g. when filling out forms, use United States or USA regardless of where the addressee is actually located.
Two examples, HQ U.S. Army in Europe and a Marine unit in Okinawa:
HQ, USAREUR / 7th ARMY
DCS, G2 (ATTN: AEAGB)
APO AE 09014-9351
MCAS Futenma Air Station
FPO AP 96372
When addressing a specific individual, that name will be the top line, followed by one or more lines indicating the unit, and the final line as specified above.
In 2009, U.S. diplomatic mail was separated from military mail. A new designation of DPO was established for diplomatic mail.