After the last post on this topic, I promised more details, so here it is. One disclaimer. I am NOT an expert. I’ve simply been sending packages to troops overseas since October 2006 and since that time, I’ve picked up a bit of knowledge along the way. Here is a bit of what I’ve learned.
FOLLOW THE RULES
Certain things are forbidden by the military, or by the US Postal Service, or in some cases, by the laws of nature. Learn the rules and follow them. The military doesn’t allow any porn. So the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, Maxim Magazine or a Hooters calendar is okay to send. Hustler, Penthouse or Playboy is NOT okay. The USPS does not allow you to send anything in an aerosol container. Also, familiarize yourself in advance with the 5-part customs forms you will have to fill out to ship to an APO address. And investigate your shipping options. Books, media (such as DVDs and CDs) can go Media Mail which is cheaper than First Class Mail, but the contents of the package are limited to the above items. Flat Rate Boxes are a good option for heavy items.
And finally depending upon the troop location and the season you’re shipping, sending chocolate in hot weather is a bad idea. Sending liquids in freezing temps, also not so good.
MORALE IS MOST IMPORTANT
Items to boost morale are always welcome… crayon drawings by school children thanking the soldiers, personal cards or letters, things that can distract them, such as games, books, magazines, are all important. I was once told that there is nothing worse for a deployed troop than to not hear your name at mail call when everyone else is getting cards, letters and care packages from home. Some sites, such as http://www.booksforsoldiers.com, have areas for ‘forgotten soldiers’ where the commanders will list the names of troop members who routinely are not receiving anything. For the price of a stamp, you can make someone’s day.
WHAT THEY NEED
This really depends upon the unit, where they are, what time of year it is, and what quirky challenges the US Military has thrown their way for some unexplained reason or another. For instance, last deployment, Sean’s platoon had a lack of forks. Why? I don’t know, but I sent them some. However, that was an isolated case. This deployment Sean’s platoon is experiencing a disturbing toilet paper shortage. You really never know, so it is best to ask. I will say that morale items and comfort food (IE jerky, chips, instant soup or microwave meals, individual-sized powdered drink mixes) is usually always welcome. But check. Sometimes they are desperate for hygiene items (baby wipes, razers, feminine products for units with women), but Sean recently told me they have plenty of those for now, except for razors. Again, ask.
FINDING TROOPS ON THE WEB
If you have a friend or family member who is deployed, check with them for the shipping address, the list of specific needs, and as their homecoming approaches their MAIL STOP date (this is very important so goods aren’t in transit as they are on the move).
If you want to adopt a random troop member or unit, I’ve personally worked with http://www.booksforsoldiers.com and http://www.anysoldier.com. There is also Soldiers Angels.org but I don’t have any experience with them, and many other organizations. I always look for an organization who is a registered not for profit 501(c)(3) to make sure they are on the level.