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Postal Service ban on overseas delivery of iPads, smart phones hits troops

Starting Wednesday, it will cost more to send iPads, Kindles, smartphones and other popular electronic devices to American troops overseas.

New United States Postal Service (USPS) rules restrict the international mailing of devices using lithium batteries, which power most personal electronics. Lithium batteries can explode in certain circumstances and have been implicated in at least two major incidents involving cargo planes — one in 2006 when a UPS jet was destroyed, and the other in 2010 when a UPS jet crashed at a military base, killing both pilots.

USPS based its decision on guidelines set the International Civil Aviation Organization and the Universal Postal Union. The groups issue guidelines for global trade.

Military families or companies wanting to mail electronic devices overseas will instead have to use private carriers such as UPS or FedEx, neither of which ship directly to APO, FPO or DPO boxes used by service members. Though FedEx does ship directly to service members overseas, it can cost more than three times USPS rates.

That is going to hurt troops, iPads for Soldiers founder Winnie Pritchett, who since 2009 has mailed more than 700 iPads to troops in Afghanistan, told msnbc.com.

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Pritchett started the nonprofit when her son, a helicopter pilot, was deployed in the war zone in Afghanistan. At first she started shipping Amazon Kindles to hospitalized soldiers on the front lines, then switched to the iPad because it was more versatile. Since then, deployed troops have used the devices to store military manuals, keep in touch with families and watch movies. And hospitalized soldiers with post-traumatic stress have even used apps for meditation to help their condition, she said.

Receiving the iPads is a morale boost, Pritchett told msnbc.com, noting the devices are easy to use by soldiers who have lost limbs from improvised-explosive device blasts.

“Better than sending them beef jerky or something like that, it’s a useful tool to help the morale,” Pritchett said. “And to let them know we truly appreciate them.”

Since finding out about the tightened USPS regulations last week, Pritchett and iPads for Soldiers volunteers in Key Biscayne, Fla., have been frantically shipping out the devices. Pritchett hopes to get the lithium-battery ban overturned.

The strict rules may be temporary. On Jan. 1, 2013, USPS says, "Customers will be able to mail specific quantities of lithium batteries internationally ... when the batteries are properly installed in the personal electronic devices they are intended to operate."

Meantime, Pritchett said she is exploring other shipping options as she receives some 2,000 requests a month for iPads.

USPS spokeswoman Darlene Casey told msnbc.com the Postal Service is "working with expert organizations to determine if any new exceptions can be developed" before January 2013.

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