The best gifts for military men and women are those that provide a taste of home. We’ve got great care package ideas for soldiers.
The men and women who serve our country in the military are heroes—especially those who are deployed overseas and separated from their families. While they may share a special bond and camaraderie with the other troops in their units, the loneliness of missing one’s family and friends can be a lot to bear. The holidays are especially tough, as those are the times families get together to celebrate. It is at this time of year that a care package from home is especially appreciated.
Gifts for Military Men and Women
The term “care package” originated with the humanitarian organization CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere). Originally called the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe, the organization was formed in 1945 as a means for providing food relief to starving populations in the wake of World War II. This relief came in the form of “CARE Packages” consisting of surplus Army field rations that had been prepared for a planned invasion of Japan that never happened. Initially, for $10 an American could have a CARE Package sent to a friend or family member in Europe. Over time, the recipients were no longer specified and the program morphed into a general relief effort.
It’s interesting to know that the term “care package,” used to describe a parcel of goodies sent to a service member away from home, began as a way of using military supplies to help struggling families.
Military Care Package Ideas
If you have a family member deployed overseas, it’s important to know what to send in a care package…and what not to send. Here are some great care package ideas for military men and women:
The military keeps our troops well fed…but those MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) can get pretty bland. Packets of hot sauce are always appreciated, as are other condiments like mustard. Other ideas for care packages:
- Quick protein sources like energy bars, tuna, sardines, beef summer sausage and jerky are excellent. Note: if your service member is deployed to Afghanistan or the Persian Gulf, the meat must be beef. Do not send pork products.
- Sweets: Chocolate is not recommended for service members who are in a warm climate, as it will not arrive in good shape. Fudge is a nice alternative, though, and cookies are always popular. It’s best to package these in plastic bags, however, in case of a mishap.
- Nuts and snack mixes are great, but small containers are best. If you send a large container, include some small zip-top bags so they’re easier to take in the field. Salty snacks encourage more water consumption…and it’s very important for your service member to stay hydrated.
- Powdered drink mixes: Speaking of staying hydrated, flavoring packets for water (or instant lemonade or iced tea) are always welcome. And in colder months, instant coffee and cocoa add warmth and comfort.
Don’t send perishables to warm climates during warmer months. Storage facilities in desert locations can get very hot, and packages can sit there for long periods of time.
Simple things that help your service member stay comfortable are among the most popular items they’ll receive. Just make sure to buy small, travel-size containers and avoid aerosol cans.
- Foot Care: One thing all troops have in common is that they’re on their feet a lot. Cotton socks and medicated foot powder are especially welcome.
- Toiletries: Toothbrush and toothpaste, disposable razors, body wash, small packages of tissues…the usual.
- Personal Care: Baby wipes are always popular, as are sunscreen, lotion, lip balm, eye drops, aspirin, etc. And because much of the Middle East is blanketed in sand, lens cloths and small bottles of glass cleaner are great for cleaning cloudy goggles.
- Cold-Weather Gear: If your service member is in a cold climate (this includes the mountains of Afghanistan in winter), items like fingerless gloves, long underwear, knit caps and disposable hand warmers are appreciated.
While your service member can face a lot of intense action, there’s also plenty of downtime that can get pretty boring. Help them kill time with some fun activities:
- Books: Paperbacks, current magazines, comics, crosswords, Sudoku, word search
- Electronics: Movies, music, portable DVD/CD players, e-readers, handheld games and other electronics are great gifts for military men and women. If you’re sending a battery-powered device, take the batteries out so it doesn’t turn on during shipment. Oh—and batteries (especially AA and D) are always in demand!
- Games: Board games, playing cards, Frisbees, hacky sacks, foam footballs and basketballs keep troops entertained and add welcome competition.
- Communication: Help them keep in touch with writing material, phone cards, and a disposable camera.
- What Not to Send: If your service member is deployed to the Middle East, don’t send pornography (or even magazines with semi-nude or provocative photos) or religious materials contrary to Islam. Remember, your service member is a guest in another country and is subject to their laws.
Finally, add a personal touch with a hand-written letter and other reminders of home. Kids’ art projects and personal notes are great…also, take videos of special moments and put them on a USB drive.
APO/FPO Shipping/Packing Tips
The military has its own postal system: APO (Air/Army Post Office) for the Army and Air Force, and FPO (Fleet Post Office) for the Navy and Marine Corps. Given the logistics of shipping to so many service members in so many parts of the world, there are some limitations and guidelines to consider, as well as some tips that will make the whole experience better on both ends. Military.com offers these suggestions:
- Size Restrictions: Packages cannot be larger than 108 inches in total circumference (total width all the way around plus total length all the way around). Your service member’s unit may have its own size and weight restrictions. Limit your care packages to the size of a shoebox. Your local post office will have free Priority Mail boxes; choose the #4 or #7 box.
- Use Bags: Items that may spill or leak should be bagged in heavy plastic zip-top bags. Freezer bags are perfect. Also, don’t ship food items and toiletries or personal care items in the same box. Nobody likes cookies that taste like shampoo.
- Packing Materials: Cushion fragile items with things your service member can use…like small packages of tissues, copies of the local newspaper, plastic bags filled with popped popcorn, small stuffed toys to hand out to local children, etc.
- Enclose a Card Listing Package Contents: That way, if the package breaks open and contents are separated during shipping, mail handlers will know what goes with what. Include the recipient’s name and your name on the card.
- Complete Address: Include the recipient’s full name, unit (including battalion, ship, squadron, etc.) and APO/FPO address, including nine-digit ZIP code if possible.
SwissColony.com has a complete listing of military gifts that can ship via APO/FPO. However, it does not guarantee that all products are appropriate for all destinations. Please use the above tips as guidelines.