Supporting The Troops

I’ve talked with a lot of people both in person and through email who have asked me about what I think about them shipping this or that. They’ve asked if soldiers like a certain cookie more than another. What about snacks? Seasonings? Etc. Well, I’m going to give you a “soldier’s perspective” about what happens to the care package once you pass it off to the Post Office. I’ll give you a few pointers about how to ensure your package gets where you want it to go.

First of all, something as simple as adding the name of the destination country to an address can delay the delivery of mail to service members overseas. By placing the zip code on your package, you’re telling the postal system where the package is going. Do not place Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany or any other country at the end of the address. The system has gotten exponentially faster, but this will delay it more than necessary. This is attributable to the sorting machine’s inability to discern whether or not the letter is intended to reach an Army or Fleet Post Office address.

“From the local town post office, the mail is transferred to the state’s general mail facility, in which the mail is consequently processed at one of USPS’ international gateways,” said Capt. Faye Slater, Third Army and Coalition Forces Land Component Command chief of theater postal operations.

The facilities of the USPS not only handle international mail but also all of the international mail of the armed services.

“A small military contingent operates with USPS at these gateways to assist USPS in routing mail to overseas points,” she said. “They are called Joint Military Postal Activities. JMPAs work to assure that USPS arranges, assembles and consolidates the letters and parcels to the correct locations, then dispatches correctly on commercial airlines. Both military personnel and USPS civilian employees work hard to get the mail to its proper destinations.”

At this point, the mail is loaded onto the aircraft for delivery to the Southwest Asia area of operations. Those letters are sent on connecting flights that average less than 29 hours from takeoff to delivery at the first offload point in the Middle East.

From there, they are kicked, thrown, crushed, twisted, beaten, stomped on, juggled, and wrestled to the floor. This is to ensure that my package arrives in a completely separate shape than it was sent. But, I don’t care what the package looks like. It’s what’s inside that’s important.

Let’s get to the important stuff: the food. A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Malogne House visiting Steve and the Girl Scouts were giving away pictures to the soldiers (for those wondering what happened to that post, I removed the picture until I can get permission from the kids’ parents to publish it). One of the volunteers from Operation Pinecone asked me which cookies were the best to send to soldiers. She was told not to send the chocolate one because they melt and stick together.

That’s true. But, we don’t care. My favorite GS cookies are the Thin Mints. I remember getting my boxes of Thin Mints and each roll of cookies was fused into a Thin Mint Log. Do you think that bothered me? Heck NO!! I just ate the log!! Don’t worry about sending cookies you’re not sure your soldier will like either. We watch each other’s backs. There’s nothing you can send that EVERYONE will hate. Even if your soldier hates it, he’ll find someone that likes it. Guess how many smoked salmon I got while I was there. I think I was the token guy that eats those things.

Sausage and cheese baskets are big hits. We’re gonna love it AND we get to share with our buddies. Popcorn is also great, but be sure you send the right kind. Not everyone has access to power and/or a microwave. It’s best to send a little of pre-popped and kernels just in case. We easily pass off anything we can’t use.

Candy is good too. Personally, I ALMOST got tired of all the Tootsie Rolls I was sent when I mentioned what a huge fan I am of the chewy, chocolately, fudge-like, rolled goodies. *drool* I said almost. I’ll never tire of Tootsie Rolls (trolls). Anyway, I literally had an entire tuffbox FULL of Trolls. The Iraqi kids loved them. They’d never even heard of Trolls. I became a local celebrity. Every time I went into the neighborhood kids would ask for Trolls. Don’t be afraid to send candy either. Your soldier will become a star passing out candy to kids or their fellow soldiers.

Some other things that people don’t think about: Pop-Tarts, Saltines, Crystal Light, flavored cappuccino powder, bean dip…look, the simple truth is that anything you can think of will be enjoyed by someone. I gave away much more than I ever ate. If you’re worried about chocolate melting, don’t worry about it. Make sure that whatever you send won’t leak though.

Consider yourself warned: Never, I repeat, NEVER mix any personal hygiene product with an edible product. When you’re so desperate for anything sweet, you’ll eat Tide-flavored licorice. The aftertaste is pretty bad though. I’d rather just have regular licorice. I’m sure your soldier would too. Also not a good idea: Old Spice flavored Snickers (my favorite candy bar minus the Old Spice).

This post is getting long, so I’ll close it. If you ever have any questions about something you’d like to ship, just email me. The bottom line is that we’re like Mikey – we’ll eat anything. I think combat does something to our tastebuds.
care package

28 Comments on “Supporting The Troops

  1. Margaret, absolutely. Tins are great because we can use them for other things when we’re done eating the contents. Thank you.

  2. I enjoyed reading your suggestions. I am making chocolate chip cookies for my cousin in Iraq and needed some information on how to do so. Can you send a tin of cookies? I’ll go snack shopping this weekend and check out the post office website before shipping.

  3. Thats funny CJ. When the girl scouts snagged me as I was walking into the shoppette the other day, I had to buy two boxes of thin mints. I told them the same story (before reading yours) about the thin mint logs. We used to freeze them and then me and the LT would work on reports or watch DVDs, as we peeled back the platic like a banana peel and knawed away at the fused cookies.

  4. Hey CJ!

    I’m the one from the Malogne House who prompted this whole dialog. Happy to see your response here and that so many others are getting the needed informaton as well. I thought I might add some information too. We are a non-profit group in Northern VA who ships carepackages to locations in Iraq and now Afghanistan, thanks to CJ. We also take donations and clothing we have altered for the wounded and their families to locations at Walter Reed and just added Bethesda Naval. Therefore, whatever donations we collect that are not acceptable for shipping (aerosol cans, etc.) can be used at the facilities mentioned. By the way, regarding the above posting…you are NOT ALLOWED TO SHIP CIGGARETTES or PORK PRODUCTS!! If you are sending packages, please review the postal and country regulations for shipping…Available at http://www.usps.gov.
    In addition to the items mentioned above by others, we ship other items that have been on soldiers’ wish lists. Here are some that have been requested: Footballs, soccer balls, DVD’s, CD’s, decks of cards, yes – greeting cards, blank note cards, pens, trail mix, BABY WIPES AND POWDER (for removing sand) is a biggie, hand held games, small puzzles (rubix cube type), puzzle books, journals, disposable cameras, batteries aaa/aa. When we send personal hygiene items along with food items, we always put the hygeiene items in a separate baggie. Small food items are in separate baggies as well. Mostly we ship prewrapped items too, so there is an added layer of plastic there. Yes, the post office recommends that there be NO AIR SPACE WHAT-SO-EVER in your packages. Where there is air space it will be crushed. I have had packages returned due to change in location and believe it or not, they have come back in good condition because we leave NO AIR SPACE.

    Thanks for you help CJ. Working on that permission slip from the Brownies. I was so glad that I could get the Brownies in there to give them the opportunity to give the soldiers their cookies in person. That photo you took of them, was GREAT! Hey, I have a great opportunity available for you on Friday if you are available. Give me a call.
    Or send me an e-mail.

  5. Speaking of packages, I just wanted to make sure you are aware of the dog tags for kids project. We send dog tags engraved “With Love From Dad, U.S. ARMY IRAQ 2006” to the soldiers so you can send them home to your kids. We do moms, dads, Spanish ones and we cover Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. You can sign up right on the web site and it is all free. All done with donations when we can get them. We send 135 at a time since it makes the postage cost effective. The kids love them, and it allows the parent to actually send something to their child. http://www.dogtagsforkids.com

  6. CJ: As others have expressed, funny and very informative post. Thanks for the “been there” perspective.
    Mike

  7. I ended up creating a pamphlet that I hand out to anyone & everyone looking for tips on what to send & how. 🙂 After my daughter’s school collected boxes upon boxes at the holidays & I came home with all of them, I decided that was best! I had to reassemble each box & we tossed some Irish Spring flavored Bubblicious and powdered Oreos.

    My rule of thumb? If it couldn’t survive in your purse or in your kid’s backpack for nearly a month, then you need to provide better protection. Empty baby formula cans are perfect containers for those individual vend-type packs of Oreos, for example.

    My favorite? Pull top soups like Campbell’s Chunky in a flat rate-box (you can get 8-10 in there) with Dum-Dum suckers as a filler. 🙂

  8. Dear CJ,
    An excellent post! I have some GS cookies all boxed up right now to ship to my squad in Kuwait. I just sent an assortment of all the varieties. I know they’ll love them, even if they do end up as a “Thin Mint log” or a “Samoa log”. (The shortbread cookies should make it with out fusing.)

    I know I’ve also received grateful comments from my AdoptaPlatoon soldiers when I’ve sent bed pillows with pillowcases and when I’ve sent greeting cards (for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, etc.) for them to send home to their families.

    One soldier told me that the pillow I sent him was the best thing he had received the entire time he was in Iraq. I thought that was a high compliment, indeed!

    An officer I supported really enjoyed sharing the 50+ greeting cards I sent him. He went around to all the guys in his shop and distributed greeting cards. He said they had a blast reading the cards and picking out the ones they wanted to send home. He even invited me to send him more to share, if I wanted to. (Of course, I did!)

    Robin in Ohio

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  10. CJ, glad to read about this on the AAP forum boards, and then get first hand, what soldiers like. Old Spice flavored Snickers?? Yuck, not exactly MY way of enjoying my favorite candy either. My guy has been good about letting me know what he likes (does NOT like candy corn or coconut but maybe some day I’ll send some over for him to give away), but it’s always nice to get other ideas. In fact, what was pictured along with this article, could have been one of MY boxes! Of course, I didn’t know you back when you were over there…never thought about sending smoked salmon….

  11. L.J., that’s a very neat idea. I’d never thought of that one myself. I wish I was your brother…

  12. When my brother served in Desert Storm mom made him ‘care packages’. One of his favorites was the pizza fixings she sent him. Boboli pizza bread, canned pizza sauce, pepperoni sticks, parmesan cheese and other dried cheeses etc. Anything you put on a pizza that comes canned or dried like olives or mushrooms even. Oh and homemade cookies. They basically did the box inside a garbage bag *to protect from moisture* inside another box with the styro peanuts and wrapped in ducttape. And as noted when his name was called out that he had a package he was quite popular as his friends new he would have stuff to share. You can always double up ziplock bags on smaller items as well to keep from leaking or absorbing smells.
    Enjoyed the post. Thanks

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  14. helix, putting them in an envelope is a great idea. I don’t know many soldiers who wouldn’t like the SI swimsuit edition, but it’s good to CYA.

    I know the question wasn’t posed to me, but the Jack Bauer ninja question is a good one. The ninja jedi would follow Jack for a couple of days, learning his routine and finding the right spots for a lightning quick assault.

    On the unsuspecting occasion, Jack would be getting out of his car when the Jedi strikes. Jack wouldn’t see it coming. Out of nowhere, throwing stars would lodge in his shoulder, arm, and knick his neck. As he was falling, the ninja would strangle Jack with the force. All this he would be doing from an unknown location, dressed in his black ninjamas.

    The only thing that would save Jack would be the writers of 24, who would at that moment write in a lightning storm that strikes a huge power cable that electrocutes the ninja jedi. Jack would live to see another day and never realize from whence came the attack.

  15. CJ – For what it’s worth, I wasn’t all that neutral on the jerky thing either. Heck, I probably wrote some of those posts munching on jerky that never made it into care packages. But I always bought (and shipped) more.

    So here’s a question: I’ve got Girl Scout cookies (way too many) to ship this weekend. I picked up some SI Swimsuit Editions to go in the boxes. Should I put the magazines in an envelope in case I happen to ship to a soldier who doesn’t want to see it?

    JP – are you a ninja or a Jedi? Are there ninja Jedis? Can Jack Bauer kick a ninja Jedi’s butt?

  16. …uh, this isn’t the post I’m looking at…

    NOT! That Jedi mind trick doesn’t work on Jedi’s! Man, next you’re going to tell me you’re not really in the Army… Oh, the Humanity!

  17. JP, this isn’t the post you are looking at (waving hand across screen in pure Jedi fashion)

  18. CJ,
    Thanks for letting all of us that send out care packages know what works and what doesn’t.

    Maybe you should post this on AAP’s forum site under care package ideas, I know that there are a lot of new supporters now that would love to read what you have to say.

    Personally, I love coming up with ideas for my packages maybe I have too much time on my hands but I love to shop for my soldiers!

    Thanks again, CJ –
    Leslie

  19. My mom even sent stuff that was not edible or of hygiene value. Before the 4th of July she sent me sparklers and balloons (for water balloons that I couldn’t make). She would send little puzzles, cards, crossword books, and those travel sized chess and checkers games. Of course don’t get me wrong getting the dried Pink Lemonade mix was always my favorite. Also unless you have personal issues with it cigarettes were a big thing. Of course when I was out there I didn’t have that much access to something like a PX so I don’t know if soldiers have better access to tobacco products. I always enjoyed getting packages and it really didn’t matter what was in it. I always felt like I was opening a present.

  20. My mom even sent stuff that was not edible or of hygiene value. Before the 4th of July she sent me sparklers and balloons (for water balloons that I couldn’t make). She would send little puzzles, cards, crossword books, and those travel sized chess and checkers games. Of course don’t get me wrong getting the dried Pink Lemonade mix was always my favorite. Also unless you have personal issues with it cigarettes were a big thing. Of course when I was out there I didn’t have that much access to something like a PX so I don’t know if soldiers have better access to tobacco products. I always enjoyed getting packages and it really didn’t matter what was in it. I always felt like I was opening a present.

  21. Well, I tried to send a trackback – not sure what happened. Another suggestion -never ship Tide with the Crystal Light, your drink might end up carbonated (and the glass really clean).

  22. D’oh, Helix. You got me. The whole “Beef Jerky Wars” were fun, but I must admit I’m a hypocrite with respect to that whole thing. Send PLENTY of beef jerky.

  23. I agree with CJ. My first adopted son with AAP emailed me everyday and he told me so many times that whatever he had that wasnt his favored he traded with his buddies who had things that were his favorite. Now on my 7th adoption I know that no matter what it is they are extremely grateful for.

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  25. CJ,

    Thanks for this post! It was very funny and helpful at the same time!! When I send my packages out (aap) I sometimes worry…but then you as others at AAP have confirmed that many items are shared…and someone is bound to like what was sent!! It’s not to bad when you have heard from your soldier and they have mentioned things they want, like, or need.

    The “tide and old spice” flavored candy was funny…ok..well the handeling of the packages to insure they are not in the same shape when received as they were sent….that was funny too…

    Teresa

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